BY GLANVILLE SMITH
ILLUSTRATED BY EVERETT C. McNEAR
Harper & Brothers Publishers
New York and London
MANY A GREEN ISLE
Copyright, 1937, 1940, 1941, by Glanville Smith
Printed in the United States of America
All rights in this book are reserved. No part of the book may be reproduced in any
manner whatsoever 'without written permission except in the case of brief quota-
tions embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address Harper &
z-i A-Q FIRST EDITION
To the JOHN SIMON GUGGENHEIM MEMORIAL FOUNDATION,
which helped finance the necessary travel; to the Cold Spring
Granite Company, which granted its designer leave of absence
to undertake it; to the Christian Science Monitor and the Atlantic
Monthly, for permission to reprint material first printed in their
pages; and to Cora Gill Smith, the one critic sure to find it excel-
lent, the author of this book gratefully extends his thanks.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Preface: Of Islands i
I. Mrs. Niblick's Nutmegs 10
II. The Brothers *5
III. Four in One Shoe 3 8
IV. English Lessons in Cuba 5
V. On Speaking Papiamento 63
VI. Grace at Sea 75
VII. From Calabash Bay to Port-au-Prince 87
VIII. Days at Blue Hole 103
IX. The Isle of Doves 1 17
X. Turtles and Postage Stamps 131
XL Easy Money 139
XII. Ports of Peace 155
XIII. Of Cabbages and Kings 167
XIV. Hot Baths 181
XV. How to Live to a Ripe Old Age in the Tropics 1 94
XVI. Sailing with Father Noah 209
XVII. Horseflesh and Gooseflesh 222
XVIII. A Hotbed of Queens 237
XIX. King William and the Rumba 252
XX. The Great Orpheum 268
M.A.JSTY A GREEN ISLE
ISLANDS AND CONTINENTS ARE THE NATURAL UNITS OF GEOGRAPHY;
their coasts are God-made and decisive, whereas frontiers are
only arbitrary. Of the two, islands are the dearer to us, as boats
are dearer than ships, and puppies are more irresistible than
These small parcels of earth, with their sea-kept freshness,
seem hopeful of perfection. Utopia was an island. Where evil
Has to swim to come, perhaps it will stay away; if the rule of
beauty, tranquillity, and order is not to be attained on the grand
sca l e and here one of mankind's oldest daydreams rises comfort-
ingly in our brains perhaps it can be achieved on a small scale,
on some small island, advantageously remote.
I see it now, "my island," wrapped in a silver haze like Christ-
mas cellophane: one craggy hill with a spring gushing at the foot,
two venerable trees to swing a hammock between, and a house
with a puff of blue smoke pinned to the chimney top. Napoleon,
who was born on unimportant Corsica, and died squirming on
MANY A GREEN ISLE ^
minute St. Helena, was continent-crazy. Poor man! What a
mania! Most of us fortunately are not like him. An island apiece
is all we want, and the smaller, the better.
True, the most isolated islands are made of the same stuff as
the continents. The people who live on them find discouragement
as easy and "death as hard as we do. They are human like our-
selves, even if the scope of their mistakes is more limited. In fact
they often look with longing across the deeps of air and sea to
the continental life we live: the huts we build and the errands we
go on seem ampler and finer than theirs. But these same islanders
presently can be found looking another way, with gaze focused
in inconsistent envy on some islet smaller and less accessible than
However, there are degrees in smallness. St. Cuthbcrt found
Lindisfarne, that scrap of Northumberland stone and dune that
served as his mission headquarters, too large an isle to pray on.
Thus, to commune in peace with the God of his strength he
tucked up his robe at low tide, and waded away from its dis-
tractions to one big enough for only a single cell and a few
tufts of dime-sized daisies.
St. Cuthbert I have always admired. His feeling for islands*
and mine, are brothers. But it is hard to be always so simple in
wants as he was. When I imagine my island in detail it tends
The house on my island of course will be very modest. A right
size to play "Annie-Annie-I-Over" over is what I want, But such
dimensions reconcile ill with the interior. I must have a cupboard
for supplies, a table to eat from, and a bed to sleep on; and then
I have thought of installing a small, but not too small, pipe organ.
A bounteous library, rich in those roomy, many-volumed works
that only people on islands have time to read, also will take space:
I see the backs in gilded beauty ranged tier on tier about me.
But it is chiefly when I think of the chairs that my house bulges.
3 PREFACE: OF ISLANDS
and the island with it. I myself can sit on the bed, but for a friend
happening in, it is only polite to provide something better a
wing chair, for example, to face the fire. At this point the hos-
pitable strain in my nature wakens with a leap; friend Friend
expands into a dinner party. And since there is nothing more
vexatious than to postpone part singing that aches to begin, while
clearing up a mess of dishes, a housekeeper here takes her place in
a hastily added lean-to kitchen.
Ah me! my island is inhabited after all, I see, as Crusoe knew
his was when he found the footprint in the sand. Well, the village
on the far cove will provide a barber for me, girls to wink at, and
young fry for swimming pals.
Moreover, my suspicion is that inhabited isles are best. With-
out lewd Caliban and freakish Ariel, Prospero would soon have
been stifling yawns among his books; St. Cuthbert, at the next
low tide, returned to his staff of missionaries very ready to join
their gossip by the fire. Or who can imagine Boswell on Inch-
kenneth, the isle he picked for his in the Hebrides, banging away
at interlopers with the cannon mounted unsociably for the pur-
pose? On the ensuing voyage, in fact, when a rock, strictly
forbidding, hove in view and Johnson cried, "This shall be your
island and shall be called Inch Boswell," his friend hardly thought
it funny. No, life in a hermitage I intend to try some, day with
f uU expectation of enjoying it; but the semi-gregarious life I know
in advance is what really suits me.
The inhabitants of my island I should prefer to choose, how-
ever, or so I think at first. For heaven's sake let them be unmarred
by the mad world outside. I like people whose skins glisten and
who roll with laughter. And while I am wishing, let them be
pretty too. Here rises the vision of some Wedgwood-platter Eden,
of palm trees full of nuts, rich-brisding plumes of sugar canes,
and a select company of nymphs in Turkish fancy dress, picnick-
ing on the strand. It is my original toy island once again, an
MANY A GREEN ISLE 4
engraver's fantasy from the cartouche on some old ornate map.
How finely statuesque the naked savages stand, with their cornu-
copias of pineapples and bananas! In the sky the East Wind blows
out his cheeks, while turtles and porpoises, frolicking in the sea,
carve its heavy surface into rococo French-pastry curls.
Armchair islands like these are a delight to visit, and indeed
it is not impossible to find them in the pages of old histories. I
think of the island at the Ecuadorian harbor mouth, to which the
filibusters took the port's prettiest girls, a band of harp and lute
players, and hampers of cakes and fruit and wine. Under the
sea-grape trees they spread carpets, pitched their pavilion, and
whiled away the time needed ashore by the city fathers in
hustling up a ransom. No seventeenth-century cartographer, nor
china painter of the eighteenth, ever detailed a picnic party more
piquantly Arcadian. And the girls, safe again in their parents'
arms, vowed that never in their lives had they had a better time*
Oddly enough, if these same young ladies had known, the day
before, of the junket that the next day was to bring, it would
have seemed dreadful, even nasty. What! fondled by stinking
filibusters? Anybody for holiday playmates rather than those
fiends, the Lutherans! Given their choice, they would have picked
captors of a more familiar stamp, say the class of '42 from Sala-
manca University.* But they learned from their adventure what
I think I know without it, that strangers and surprises give a
spice to life, and that no island is complete without them.
If we are to believe what we see on old maps, Neptune was a
stranger who used often to bring excitement to the isles. In his
shell car, rushing with its teams of white-maned horses in the
curve of a flowing wave, he arrived trident in hand. It must have
been a picture. Or Columbus, planting the cross of Spain gran-
diosely on his Indies what an occasion! He was a dressy man,
* Meaning, of course, die class of 1642.
5 PREFACE: OF ISLANDS
and treated the Indians, who had never seen clothes before, to the
spectacle of European haberdashery in its most gorgeous epoch.
What we miss in our own time I realize most keenly when I
realize also that, lugging a suitcase and in a white drill jacket in
need of an ironing, I have been the modern-day successor of
those personages. At port after port, the full length of Colum-
bus's West Indies I put ashore, their stranger of the twentieth
century. And, very properly, no garlands anywhere greeted my
arrival, no weed-wreathed tritons blew their conch-shell horns.
The colorless tombstone man was met by the immigration officers.
No, I could never be anybody, nor pretend to be anybody for
long, but Smith of Cold Spring. It was as if I had just put on my
hat after detailing the day's last epitaph or rose, and come away
from the untidy drafting room to hobnob as usual with the town's
dogs and children on my way to supper.
What a solid world I had left behind! founded on the firm
bedrock of granite! No battle, to history's knowledge, has ever
disfigured our calm countryside. Day after day, preparing for the
slow stresses of eternity, the granite slabs move through the great
mill by the river, to take the forms I and my fellow draftsmen
set for them: monuments, mausoleums, crosses, footstones, of
'smoldering dark red, or grays grave and crystalline. And about
us, inimitably in all directions from this Minnesota midrib of the
continent, away stretches the comfortable sameness of one lan-
guage, one big, common, kindly way of life.
But even so continental a world can have its islands. Ours, up
the Sauk, I have mapped for a hobby, on winter holidays when
ice travel has made it easy to take sights; and in summer quote,
"Many a green isle needs must be
In the deep wide sea of misery,
Or the mariner, worn and wan,
Never thus could voyage on?
MANY A GREEN ISLE 6
while waving an affectionate canoe paddle at still-nameless inno-
The dark West Indies, however, which loomed for so many
months about me from the sea to the clouds, had weltered in a
misery less cheerfully to be borne than mine, which is of the
// Penseroso sort, for the most part, very tolerable. Plagues and
piracy, slavery, revolt, grog-swilling, greed, and endless wars by
sea and land, had been the blue vats in which they were all but
drowned in their ^ild infancy, with middle age no less frantic
for the unluckier of them. It seemed awful, in scenes like these,
to go ashore in pert felt hat, without salute or ceremony.
Yet these history-drenched islands, with haze of blue still in
their steep-plumed ravines, were youthful enough. They made
me from my far newer part of the New World feel even a
little elderly. For all the woes and upsets of an exhausting career,
they had kept alive the core of their primitive island peace, like
a bulb hid in the ground, flowering afresh in its own quiet season.
Empires might founder and civilization turn turtle in the brine,
but here were remnants of the good earth for a worn mariner
to steer to. The cliffs of Dominica still fronted their vermilion on
the windward surf, coconuts thrust new roots into the salty sand,
guavas dropped, and dragonflies mated innocently in the sun.
The verdure-framed waterfalls of Jamaica gushed as freely as in
the days of no trouble at all those days when in my small-
boyhood's album I feasted on pictures of them, on the stamps,
and first hankered and resolved to know the islands.
But peace finds refuge too in the lives of the simplchearted.
What good company such people are! Their prayers must go up
with a special efficacy. For though Adam's curse weighs on us
all, we all share likewise in the inheritance of the dream of Eden
of which dream's harmony these souls, never desperate for its
recapture, most nearly achieve the earthly counterpart* Even the
7 PREFACE: OF ISLANDS
cities we build, thanks to their presence, can have a haunting
kinship with the lost paradise.
Thus, and though political economy is a timelier concern, and
emergencies require that we be up, constantly, and shooting, the
shores and hills and islanders that I learned to know had some of
the old healing secret in their trust. The Negro grandmother, for
example, fast asleep in the armchair by her door, with hands
folded and glasses crooked, no doubt had a snore meant specifically
I had a message for her too perhaps. At any rate she was glad
to wake up and meet someone new. Tombstone designers do not
come in on every boat, curious to try what joys lie this side of
the tombs that are their business. My small talk and pert Cold
Spring hat had a gleam of the romantic in them for the lady.
While climbing the islands' hill roads, in fact, it was with
secret delight that I saw housewives topple from doorsteps,
craning their necks for a more prolonged view of the stranger.
Not even Columbus, in furred cloak and brocaded doublet, could
have been more a cynosure. To a Smith whose unsung task, daily,
is to lay out the pithless epitaphs of nobodies like himself, making
eyes bug so, for once, was quite exhilarating.
Zest faded, however. Such fun soon grows tiresome. A trip at
home down Main Street is more nourishing to the spirit. No,
what I wanted of these poor islanders was to have their peace for
mine, too; to build my house near theirs, light my coal-pot, and
be taken for granted as a neighbor. Not for nothing was I born a
nobody. We Smiths know the comfort of being inconspicuous.
In fact, as it happens in these often dark-skinned isles, the
white visitors' problem is not how to be remarkable but how to
be familiar as the physicist's is to know the atom without alter-
ing it with his mere curiosity. When Neptune arrives, the altars
immediately smoke, and princes of the blood find all ports in the
midst of carnival. I see why Haroun al Raschid loved his frowzy
MANY A GREEN ISLE 8
disguises, and Jove watched Europa's lawn party from the up-
turned eyes of a grazing bull: even a Smith, tiptoeing in, can
upset the naturalness of places.
Luckily, the physicist, though he may have no way of prying
unsuspected into his atom's private life, can deduce a few facts
from its behavior in his company. A traveler must content him-
self with similar part-knowledge. Even what the steam-roller
tourist learns has its truth: when he unboxes his camera and
pleads^ "Don't stand in a row, folks, look natural! here, madam,
please go on spanking your baby as you were when I drove up,"
there is a chance that he will get a not-worthless photograph.
The statistical-minded who pay calls on governors and ask search-
ing questions bring away facts of a kind at which I do not sniff.
Indeed, I wish I had these people's nerve.
But I haven't. I feel too little assurance to bustle around like
that, and distrust too much my own replies to deep-probing
questions. Inexplicably, however and it must set the moralists
to scratching their heads God's bounty is often bestowed on
those who neither sue for nor deserve it.
When I went to the ford at Jacmel to bathe a pair of hot feet,
why was it to me, recumbent and unarduous, that He sent the
Haitian playing a long-necked lute with big loose-fingered hands,
instead of to my hard-working shipmates elsewhere in the city,
with their cameras and their binoculars and their determination
to see all? Perhaps He likes to hand gifts to people who are pleased
to have got something. My friends, true enough, would not have
been satisfied with that day's bounty. What they wanted while
ship was in port was to witness a Voodoo sacrifice, human
I see it again now, that chance port of call on the Havana-ward
and homeward voyage: the far ring of the blue Haitian moun-
tains, crumpled and solemn, the bursts of palm foliage, the banks
of canes, the women lifting their skirts sky-high to flounder
9 PREFACE: OF ISLANDS
through the rushing water, the hyacinths bobbing along on their
pale green floats. Here would have been a place to establish my
house and boil my rice, with lizards twittering in the thatch, and
the world streaming past the door on its old, hard, simple errands.
Where bridges have not yet been built, lute music has a chance
at natural survival. It did not die, after all, with the filibusters
who sang to it between kisses on their Ecuadorian island. But this
black boy's music was by no means archaic. It was contempo-
raneous and healthy. It had a supple robustness to it, as well as
the delicacy and sweetness I should have expected from the
Thought of that music makes me no, not ambitious; ambition
connotes too cocksure a bent of mind. Let me say "hopeful,"
rather hopeful that there is a book of islands for me to write,
neither in the jazz tourist idiom, nor grand-operatic: one peace-
fully insular, in which the monkeyshines and singing of that great
orpheum, the West Indies, are told of, and its melancholy-gay
actors' backstage jokes and prayers. For when a rampaging fate
whirls us we know not whither and divorces islands from their
old affinities, even so modest a quest as mine can have its worth,
if, in kind honesty, it reveals a little of how things were some-
where, yesterday, and how that character outlived day before
yesterday's distresses. Or must everybody, like my shipmates,
have gore spilled to be satisfied?
Lute music, as I came to understand at the Jacmel ford that
day, is the sort of thing I hanker for in a loud age. I should count
it grace indeed to be given grace to make some especially if
there are a few friends to enjoy it with me, in a cheerful island
M RS . N I B L I C K' S NUTMEGS
S. NIBLICK LIVES IN GOtJYAVE, ON THE
lee shore of Grenada. It is a steep shore, shaggy with leafage, but
at Gouyave a river bursts from a cleft in it to push out an apron
of delta which the town just fills. Above the red roofs two church
towers stand slim against the blue deeps of the valley; the out-
most houses overhang the sea wall's curve: here, for a dry oasis
between watery sea and juicy vegetable kingdom, is a man-made
nest of brick. But one arc of beach has been left open for the
fishermen, with coconut trees shooting up behind it like green sky-
rockets transfixed in mid explosion.
At sight of a picture so pretty I broke into applause, sailing by
on a schooner St. George's-bound. It might very well have been
the town on the far side of my own island, compact and sociable
though one single church tower in a small-scale Arcady like
mine would be enough. "The Church's One Foundation/' as it
happened, was the hymn the crew sang as we came sailing by;
very boisterously they had just been chasing one another with
the hatchet, but now their mood changed. Down they dropped
and in unbashf ul black-boy voices sang of salvation, lying sprawled
out, heads on hands.
From St George's there were busses aplenty to carry me back
to Gouyave if I wanted to go: the "Dignity," the "Modesty/*
and the "Western Pride" drew up in a tempting row each after-
ii MRS. NIBLICK'S NUTMEGS
noon to take on ice cakes and gesticulating passengers. But where
should I stay when I reached Gouyave? The super-sergeant at
police headquarters, smiling kindly from behind his mustachios,
told me to put my trust in Providence.
It was all the encouragement I needed. Off I packed, while
the super-sergeant, amused to be serving as Providence's arm,
hopped unseen into a seat behind me and down again when I did
at my destination. "Primus will find a bed for you," he announced
when a deputy constable, barefoot and in tatters, touched his cap.
And Primus led the way to Mrs, Niblick's.
Mrs. Niblick, as I was to learn, was a trim high-brown, a grass
widow full of dimples and vivacity. She owned a nutmeg grove
in the mountains and a home of her own in town, atop a shop on
Main Street. Through an archway Primus ushered me, up a pas-
sage, and into her cobbled court.
Here was a brick oven agape like Moloch, the kitchen, shower-
bath, and a broad stone staircase mounting to the gallery. I soon
was seated in my hostess's drawing room, and so was Primus,
picking something from his back teeth with his finger. "Take
care you don't split yourself right open," said Mrs. Niblick, giving
me a nudge. Then down the stairs she charged, to bake coconut
bread for supper, while my mentor and I sallied out to buy
Before the oranges, avocados, and cabbage were taken home,
we enjoyed a session in the rumshop end of a dark grocery, with
iced sweet wine to loosen up our voices.
"Carnival songs what the gentleman best enjoy," Primus in-
formed the newcomers. As deputy constable and the white for-
eigner's first friend in Gouyave, he ostentatiously took charge.
"Antoine," he commanded, "sing Tire Brigade' for the gentle-
"My voice not good this evening," Antoine protested, indulg-
MANY A GREEN ISLE n
ing in a stage cough for politenesses sake. But then happily out
Smoke! smoke! fire
Brigade, lundi, mardi
a humorous ditty, half in Creole French.*
"Aurelian, sing 'One Day I Met an Old Woman'," continued
Primus with a wink at me; he too was a traveled man, having
seen Curasao, and thus could look with detachment on this rustic
It was a sorrow to Aurelian that I was not a brother Mason, but
a swig of wine unstopped his throat, and out rumbled a Trinidad
calypso enumerating the endless contents of an Obea-woman's
Bitter Italian, stinking toe,
he sang, until, "Speaking of stinking toe/' I was forced to inter-
pose, "maybe my hostess is waiting to boil this cabbage/'
But she wasn't. It was destined for Monday's soup kettle. The
coconut bread was baked, however, and piping hot. She handed
me a disk of it at supper, big as a steering wheel, and sat acros^
the corner of the table to tfafl^pie eat it. Billy, the black butler,
toiled in and out fetching things up from the" kitchen the rice,
the jackfish, the fried plantain, and oily Creole chicken* He was-
aged ten, and where a good shirt most scrupulously should have-
covered it, his fat belly was exposed. "Billy Belly," Mrs. Niblick
called him, tickling the irresistible, whereupon our butler would
double up, giggling, with the teapot in his hands.
We then made up my bed, spreading open a crisp-folded
*The French half: "Monday, Tuesday, conch shell blowing,"
13 MRS. NIBLICKS NUTMEGS
sheet and buttoning the pillows in the pillowcases. "You're so
simple! so soft!" cried Mrs. Niblick, meaning (I hope) that
there were no stand-off airs about me. When she bid her guest
an affectionate good night, rain had begun to fall outside in the
warm gloom. Gouyave was as still as the country. But near and
regularly there came a homelike sound: before I rolled over on
the clean hard bed, with its valence stretched around the post
tops like valentine lace paper, I peeped into the gallery and found
Billy, for a watchman, faithfully snoring on the floor.
"Good morning," said Mrs. Niblick next day, sauntering past
the shower bath.
True enough, it was a radiant Sunday, as I could see plainly
from my suds. The bath, in an arch under the courtyard stairs,
was afforded privacy by a low gate over which the bather could
chat with whoever happened to be about, and view the Anglican
church spire pointing a didactic finger toward the blue.
"If you're going to church, let me go with you," I proposed,
turning the valve for a final drenching. But as it proved, she hadn't
done such a thing for months. Gouyave parish, like Anglican
parishes everywhere in the islands, was in the throes of rising
from Low to High Church ritual; the goings-on of the rector
made her adrenal glands boil over. However so it dawned on
-her to take me would let her gauge progress made without
Betraying any lessening of her disapprobation of it. So she put on
her best hat and black net gloves when the bell rang, and soon,
to the organ's wheeze, we were singing the hymns and trying not
to sound too noisy.
The rector, sure enough, held his hands in special ways while
MANY A GREEN ISLE 14
reading the Gospel, and cracked his brow on the chancel pave-
ment in abject veneration of the Host. Between transports, how-
ever, as Mrs. Niblick was pleased to note, he gawked some at
the unexplained white man in the congregation. But then in the
sermon he lost himself once more, soaring in spirit to those realms
where the mystical is the true reality, and blunders made by
organists during a sung Eucharist blessedly cease to gall
"As if there weren't a real Roman church just down the street!"
fumed Mrs. Niblick on the way home. She clenched a fist inside
a black net glove. But presently a more charitable concern took
her attention: where could a proper shirt be found for Bill, who
like the rest of the town's authentic Catholics was to march in
the afternoon's Rosary Procession? One belonging to her late
husband perhaps would do one left when he went off to
the larger life of New York. Turning the sleeves back two or
three times would make it "fit,"
Primus, that afternoon, also had managed improvements in his
dress. For style's sake he perspired richly in a wool suit borrowed
from his cousin Prince; it was of a cinnamon tint, and the fedora
that rested not lightly on his ears was gray* "Today hot, hot,
-hot!" he bleated, dragging the hat off to swab his brow.
The worsted suit, in fact, threatened to worst him even before
the procession got under way. We had taken our place in seats
reserved for the Blessed Sacrament League, as it happened, to
which league he owed eleven months' back dues* But I did not
know this and Primus was too mortified to ask to move; so while
he sat at a self-effacing diagonal on the out-edge of the pew and
melted like lard, I joined the members in good standing heartily
in their hymn and admired the common-sense informality used
by the priest in setting his big parade in motion.
Out of doors, Primus expanded to fit his suit again. The whole
countryside had come to town, before which throng it was a
treat to be seen hobnobbing with the white foreigner* I was
15 MRS. NIBLICK'S NUTMEGS
introduced to relatives by the dozen, especially brothers and
sisters of a perplexing variety of names. Friends, too, were floridly
presented; but of any who showed too great a readiness to join
the party. Primus had cautionary gossip to whisper in my ear.
"This man try to milk you, he two times in jail already," was
the insidious message; or, of some grinning shaver, "He look
little, but he a big crook, big, big, big!" For the perquisites due
the visitor's guide and counselor tobacco, rum, or a chance
shilling he did not care to see diffused vainly among the
Aurelian, however, was irrepressible, and Antoine the fisher-
man could not be shaken off. Nor did I help Primus much to
shake them, but forgave the old jail terms he significantly men-
tioned and treated them all to smokes.
Antoine showed us the boat he was helping build: the log,
fetched ponderously from the hills to the tune of singing, and
hollowed out now, was full of moistened sand to make it gape
still farther. Planks lay ready for the gunwales.
Aurelian's specialty was the girls. "Never a man come to Gou-
yave speak nicer about other men's wife' dresses!" he trumpeted,
urging me to eloquence with a wave of his pipe. They were all in
their best; it was a pleasure to pay compliments. Or where he felt
it would be acceptable, he pushed the conversation into sugges-
tive byways, which made the girls squirm and titter and threaten
to box his ears.
Meanwhile the Rosary Procession came winding through the
streets. The band played; and the burnished-f aced scouts in purple
neckerchiefs and bright green caps marched like a troop of happy
bugs. The St. Anne's Guild and Blessed Sacrament League trudged
behind their banners. Billy Belly footed it with the parochial
school children, and eight young ladies in blue veils made a win-
some convoy for the canopied Virgin. Last of all, and helped
MANY A GREEN ISLE 16
along as necessary, came the town's unfortunates, the blind and
crippled, bringing their difficulties for an offering.
The labor of watching his friends parade made Primus thirsty,
at least he insisted I must be parched. Since it was Sunday the
rumshops were all shut up; but a deputy constable is not with-
out resource. We were soon clinking glasses in a merchant's
storeroom, where Primus, when moist enough again for speech,
was warmed by his drink to a manly strain. His anecdotes tended
toward the boastful. "If you sin, Primus sure to catch you,"
grinned Antoine; for his friend, not regularly on the force, earned
his best fees detecting small evasions of the law and bringing them
to court for a cure.
"This detective business win nobody' thanks," mourned
Primus, nevertheless. "Sweat, slave, up early, run legs off, late
to bed small pay, no uniform, and the whole world give you
black looks. That what a man get for keeping people honest."
"Why you don't till that field you got at Grand Mai and live
happy?" asked Aurelian, taken aback. "Nobody cuss you for
"There no respect for agriculture," he stated flatly* And with
a reminiscent grin he launched on tales of further exploits. His
"Take care, man," warned our host. "Before you know it, you
feel so big you beg to pay the bill."
Outside again, we found the sunset pouring its gold into
Gouyave from seaward. While the girls innocently strolled by,
the boys sat in rows on the bridge rails; the little Virgin had been
put away in the big plain church and the priest had gone home
to his supper.
"Hullo!" cried Primus. "Who leave this blue bicycle by the
door? Who see my cousin Prince in town?"
"Prince gone," a fat woman told him, leaning peacefully out
17 MRS. NIBLICK'S NUTMEGS
of her window across the street. "Gone, gone, gone. He ride
home to Grand Mai on the lorry."
"That Prince, he go to St. George's without his pants on, he
so forgetful," complained Primus. "Ain't no fools like you' rela-
tions. Here the dent that come when he lean she on a mule' hind
leg," he pointed out, taking the handle bars.
"I no see you' cousin bring no bicycle," said the fat woman,
lighting her pipe.
It was an implication that made Primus huffy. "What you think,
woman?" he demanded, spreading his hands; "don't I ride Prince's
bike often enough to know she? Ignore! I just cycle back to
Grand Mai, and give the fool a cussing. In the morning, Chief,
I reckon I see you again," he added, not to neglect future business.
But morning was to find me afoot among the hills: it was a pro-
gram that reminded him of less strenuous duties.
"Evening, then," he promised; "Primus never forget he
friends." And off he rode, hand briskly on the bell.
"That deputy of yours," said Mrs. Niblick, pouring tea, "rides
by as big as a full-time constable. Maybe he smells one of his
friends trading twopence-worth of mace sweepings without a
license. Humph!" And so on. She didn't think much of Primus.
"Not because he admires my beauty, he sits so close when I ride
to St. George's on the bus," she sniffed; "he thinks he'll learn
something. 'Permit me to assist you with those bundles,' he begs:
pugh! how he sweats! All the same," she mused, nodding across
the table, "it was sweet of him to bring you here."
"Right-o," I agreed, reaching for more jackfish* We had our
usual lively mealtime chat. But then I went out for a draught of
MANY A GREEN ISLE 18
solitude, and to see Grenada's steep lee shore by starlight; "Good
night, good night/' people said, passing barefoot like noiseless
shadows, till one man stopped to take my hand.
It was Aurelian. I had strayed into his village and must come
with him to meet his wife and neighbors. As each cabin took
shape beside us in the gloom, he knocked and bawled, "Here
the Englishman from America!" And presently a lamp would be
thrust out and a dazed black face. "Make yourself known!"
Aurelian would trumpet, waving his hand in a jovial and lofty
At the lane's end, where the banana and chocolate groves
tipped over a bank above the sea, was Aurelian's own cabin, small,
gray, and rickety. "Make yourself known!" he cried here too,
waving a glad hand toward his wife. From the dresser on which
the household's dishes were arranged, a chimneylcss lamp shone
on the blue of her frock and the hands quietly folded over the
baby sleeping in her lap. She had marched with the St. Anne's
Guild that afternoon, but now her lace hat was put away, as was
Aurelian's man-about-town air. They were at home again and
settled back in home's unostentation.
An older daughter, down with the fever, lay out of sight behind
a flowered cotton screen; Justina, of a midway age, perched on
her father's knee and turned one foot up to show where a thorn
had broken in it. "Tomorrow we prick that out!" promised
Aurelian, trumpet-voiced as usual
"I have one in my hand, too," I told her; for scrambling up a
cliff in Antigua to look at orchids, I had buried a prickly-pear
spine in the knuckle ridge.
"Antigua very far away," sighed Aurelian's wife* It reminded
her of Harlem where an aunt lived, "Very cold, now, in Amer-
ica," she remarked, her aunt having written her that news.
It was a well-worn topic; however, I elaborated, telling them
about fishing through the ice, sundogs, and the ear muffs we had
19 MRS. NIBLICK'S NUTMEGS
to wear. But for any telling of mine so I thought, tramping back
to Gouyave through the dark how could these people know
what winter was in the North? How, in their nutmeg groves,
could they see the gnarled oaks, stiff with fortitude, enduring the
frost-mist of a night in Cold Spring? or the long granite sheds
shining in the snow, with my tombstones piled beside them as if
all mankind were waiting for a burial?
Like an iceberg detached from the polar floe, here I was,
bobbing from one of their fruity islands to another. Why didn't
I melt? The first glacier-like visit of the North had thawed back,
sure enough, to leave Grenada to its Negroes. Cold, slow, drastic,
implacable, the ghost of that white juggernaut loomed before me
in the road.
Absent-mindedly I walked through it. The northern Old World
had pushed in here not to improve the New, though it assumed it
was certain to do so, but to better its own fortunes. Columbus's
and Queen Isabella's dream of native communities of Christians
was to be fulfilled perversely; for in their time, as it suddenly
occurred to me, the technique of converting the heathen had gone
Tickled to have hit on an idea of my own, I sat on a handy
bridge parapet to elaborate it.
When St. Cuthbert won the barbarous North British, for
example, the missionary frontier had almost reached its limit.
Christendom, with the infidel deaf to argument at its back, had
toiled to the last chilly island outposts. Not spreading the King-
dom, but aggrandizing its inner structure now busied the Church.
When Marco Polo tried to persuade Rome to send the mis-
sionaries to China that the Great Khan so earnestly had invited,
he had a devil of a time. A Borgia ascended St. Peter's throne
in 1492. Poor West Indians! at just this juncture, with the Church
ripe for its Reformation, their hot sweet islands suddenly were
MANY A GREEN ISLE 2 Q
And of the first official bringer of enlightenment to the New
World savages, Buyl, the Benedictine of Columbus's second voy-
age, not even the Catholic Encyclopaedia has a kind word to say
so I have noticed since.* Besides, the theology of his era con-
demned as degenerate any people less civilized than their father
Noah. These backsliders, stark naked, had lost even the shame of
their mother Eve! Washing his hands of them, and Columbus too,
the Vicar Apostolic angrily boarded the first vessel bound back
To the credit of the Spanish church it must be admitted, none-
theless, that by the time the extinction of the islanders was assured,
the forgotten technique had been relearned enough to spare so
clean a sweep on the mainland. The first priest to say his first Mass
in the New World, in fact Las Casas, ordained at La Vega in
Santo Domingo became the great champion of the Indians. He
had seen sights to give his religion its blaze of social fury: potential
converts strung up twelve to a gibbet in honor of the Twelve
Apostles, and such items.
In zeal to save the remnant of the island race, Las Casas urged
bringing in black labor from Africa. For whereas the Arawaks of
the Greater Antilles sickened in mine or cane field, the few slaves
introduced already from Europe seemed to thrive. Moreover, the
Spanish blacks were the successful product of a missionary enter-
prise of a kind. Ravaged out of heathendom for their souls* good,
in Spain they had absorbed Christianity from their masters.
Slavery, so the slavers said, was the Africans* one chance at
heaven: thought of that three-centuries-used excuse brought a sad
taste to my mouth.
Yes, such was the slave trade's seed, innocently moral Having
sowed it, Las Casas, like a whirlwind, rushed off to the Latin
'The Vatican cannot strictly be blamed for the choice, since Buy! wat sent out
on authority of a forged papal bull.
2i MRS. NIBLICK'S NUTMEGS
mainland where, thanks in part to his prodigious ministry, the
Indians to this day are the major race.
But as for Grenada here about me, with its blobs of cacao leaves
drooping against the sky, and streams tumbling unseen in the
hollows, its fate had not lain 'in Spain's hands, for Spain left the
Lesser Antilles uncolonized. Here, the native Caribs, though full
of fight, had been dispossessed by the North Europeans, which
Northerners soon put into practice the Spanish scheme of work-
ing the land with blacks. Aurelian and his wife, Primus, and
Mrs. Niblick, were the moraine of foreign material that the
glacial drive had dumped. Even these trees about me, bamboo,
mango, citrus fruit, breadfruit, cacao, and the nutmegs of the
mountains, had been brought in like that greatest bonanza of all,
sugar, in the huge transformation of West Indian geography.
What life was in the West Indies when that drive was at its
liveliest is not hard to guess. Down from the parapet I hopped
and tramped off, disturbed by the idea. Restoration and eighteenth
century England had sent a gay set of planters and military to the
isles, and so had the France of Louis XIV and Louis XV. It was
an age of gaming and sexual naughtiness in Europe, which habits,
magnified on a tropical frontier, made an uproarious world in
which the black newcomers were to learn Christian manners.
The buccaneers illumined it especially with their lurid lives. Only
the Quakers and Jews, as groups, understood that the Africans
were being depraved while being civilized, and did what they
could on their own estates to bring justice to the process.
But here below me were Gouyave's two towers in the star-
light, that pair of guideposts pointing the way to bliss. Built to
call white congregations to worship, they had been inherited by
the meek. Half pillowed in soft treetops now in benign old age,
they looked toward each other dreamily over the sleeping roofs:
the Catholic belfry, symbol of Grenada's French regime, and the
Anglican spire, of the British supercession.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 22
Early and firmly, in the French and Spanish colonies, Rome
had laid the foundation for its island towers. Though it was a
slaveholding, and thus essentially a whites' institution, the baptism
of slaves was mandatory. The age might be naughty, but at least
God's followers were numerous on the books.
The English church, however, clung religiously to the tenet
that, being animals, Negroes were incapable of salvation. Marriage
among them was discountenanced as profane; they bred more
liberally, in fact, without it. When good Lady Nugent, the gov-
ernor's wife, came out to Jamaica in 1802, she was appalled to
learn that her King's House staff was made up of the tmbaptized,
unwed, and unevangelized.
Meanwhile and who was I to criticize them for it? the blacks
held to the practices of Guinea as tenaciously as they could. To
this day, their magic pervades the islands, communal ways of
working, and an un-European, large, loose sense of family rela-
tionship. However, the Jews and Quakers were not the last teach-
ers to exert on them an earnestly well-meant influence. By the
mid-eighteenth century the Moravians had begun their labors
in Antigua and the Virgin Islands: the almost Darwinian concept
was dawning, that people who were degenerate from Noah's
standard were still capable of regeneration* Fired in their turn, the
Wesleyans rushed in, and finally the secular educators.
But the reward for good works seems often a little sour. When
Virtue finally guided West Indian policy and the slaves were not
only Christianized but married and emancipated, the islands ceased
to yield much profit. Or perhaps the radical historians arc right,
that the profit decline had somewhat to precede Virtue's tri-
umphant entry. In any event, back thawed the glacier of Northern
exploitation to the latitudes from which it came.
In Grenada, here around me, was a specimen of what the
glacier left. After the excitements of the Rosary Procession, Gou-
yave had gone peacefully to bed. The waves washed on the
fishermen's beach as they had in Carib times, but inside these
houses black and colored Christians snored, not Queen Isabella's
Indians. Even though her church (in French hands) had been
persecuted here by the British of another day, and the French
themselves during their godless Revolution had captured this very
town for the cult of Reason, Catholicism was still very much alive.
The tired priest could sleep in confidence of a good tomorrow.
The rector, too that other white chip off the old block of the
North could dream with easy heart of candles and canonicals:
his High Church party it was, among the Anglicans, that had put
in the best licks in the island vineyard.
But if the dreams of either man were troubled by the sins of
their parishioners, I hoped they knew that the black devils of
Africa were not the sole ones to blame. The European colonists
were a transient lot and by no means all bad; but their white
devils, like the telltale legacy of their blood, had come to the isles
Next night I helped Mrs. Niblick strip the mace from her day's
While infant Billy and she had walked six miles into the moun-
tains, climbed trees and scrabbled hour after hour for the nuts,
and then walked home with a bushel apiece on their heads, I had
been not quite so strenuous. I had climbed to the nutmeg groves,
true enough, and found them as shadowy and lacy as the beech
groves of the North. But then through plantations of fern-clad
cacaos on the lower slopes, and among villages where hydrangeas
bloomed as big as basketballs, I had come down and eaten my
lunch on a flat rock in the river.
It was an odd picnic: dust-dry coconut bread with a jar of
guava jelly. But there were oranges to wet my whistle, and for
M.ANY A GREEN ISLE 24
spiritual refreshment a pamphlet on The Necessity of Purgatory,
picked up from the rector's rack.
Primus, it proved, had fallen meanwhile into one of those purga-
tories that await the boastful "There's , only one Primus in
Grenada," declared Mrs. Niblick, setting the lamp on the floor
by the nutmeg pile, "but plenty of blue bicycles. He got called
quick from headquarters when the real owner of the one he rode
home yesterday heard who took it. Primus made trouble for him,
once; now comes tit for tat. Hee! hee! and the big way he clashed
the bell! I reckon I can take my mace to town this week without
having him eye the parcel."
"Good riddance of an ugly face," said her sister. The three of
us worked on the floor, our shadows towering on the termite-
"I'm glad I got a picture of Primus, yesterday," I remarked,
pulling the red mace from my heap of nuts, "He stood by your
oven for it, like a cinnamon bun just baked. But by the way,"
I thought to ask, "that cinnamon-colored suit <wa$ his cousin
"Was it!" cried Mrs. Niblick, rolling back on the floor to laugh
the harder. "Prince stripped him like a nutmeg when he got home
at last. Here comes Sunday and his good suit gone. Primus bor-
rowed it while he took a wash, or so Prince says,"
"And the hat?" I faltered.
"That hat fits him so big, I reckon it's his," said Mrs. Niblick
"Let's be kind and say so."
"Primus don't make me feel kindly," said the sister. "What
good in this world is a man like him?"
"Why," said Mrs. Niblick, sitting up again, "it's nice to have
something to complain about and Primus makes a very good pest
Only he's a clown, too, and always keeps us laughing. My nut-
megs on the floor here wouldn't be worth the picking if the world
didn't need some spice."
I ASON APPERLY S FATHER WAS JUDGE
Apperly, who also was father to his brother Murchison. "We got
one father and one mother," Jason several times told me. It was
a point of pride, for such things are not to be taken for granted
in Dominica. Their mother was a laundress and a very good
Although there are few white people in Dominfca, those few
are divided into two groups. There is the group of correctly based
opinion, to which the government officials properly adhere; and
there is the wrongheaded group that does not bother to maintain
decorum in all its branches. British now, Dominica was long
French; and since its nearest neighbors are Guadeloupe and
Martinique (still French), and its empire trade has been less
active than once-French Grenada's, a Gallic flavor continues to
pervade the island. The old, easy Latin carelessness in racial
distinctions not only has made its people beautiful, but draws to
it swank present-day Britons, who are devoted to John Bull at
heart but delighted to live under somebody else's code.
The judge, who should have been a beacon of British right
thinking in this twilight zone, turned out more wrongheaded than
the oddest of the nudists. Seventeen miscellaneous christenings
he had paid for when he went to his eternal rest. But as he often
remarked with an unregenerate sigh, there probably had been
omissions in the rush of events.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 26
All this I did not know until long after I had bidden the boys
good-by. I had wondered about their father but had forborne
asking questions. However, when I did hear the story it was no
surprise to learn that he was a brilliant Englishman.
The boys' mother was alive and I met her: a hard-working
colored woman, who, when she had no clothes to wash, skilfully
stuffed giant frogs and beetles and other such portable island mon-
sters and varnished them to sell to sailors and tourists. Jason
assisted in this enterprise, it was one of the several in which he was
proficient. His nimble fingers converted cashew nuts into gro-
tesque monkey heads on which he glued sea shells or bits of
calabash rind for hats. When a ship came into port he would
climb aboard with baskets of these things and vend them; while
Murchison, who was an apprentice tailor, solicited pressing for
himself or quick laundry work for his mother. Jason was fourteen,
Murchison, nineteen, and since they were both polite brown boys
of a trim appearance, they usually got their share of what business
happened to be going.
This, too, I learned when I already knew the family. I had
arrived in Roseau after roasting all night in a ship's third-class
dormitory with the blacks and Chinamen: each of us had had a
shelf to roast on, and the Chinese, who were models of patience,
showed the rest of us how to do it. You just lie down flat and
suffer, and by and by morning comes and the ordeal is over. The
purser, who happened to observe me starting ashore with my
dormitory mates, was much upset. "Your ticket entitles you to
leave by the first-class gangway!" he protested, looking sweaty.
But it seemed absurd to make a porter carry my bags amidships
for a stylish exit; and if I had I should have met the Appcrlys at
once and brushed them aside, not supposing I was interested in
nut grotesques or tailoring. They would have remembered me as
a cool, not to say frost-nipped cucumber. As it was, 1 went down
27 THE BROTHERS
the back way where no vendors nor dry-cleaners looked for
business and met the boys later on a social footing.
Jason I met first. It was on the jetty after the ship had gone
and the day's rains had cleared the sky for a gold and turquoise
sunset. The occasion was so natural and easy that I have forgotten
how we came to speak. But from the first we recognized each
other as equals, which spared a great deal of bother.
Jason liked it very much, for instance, that I was polite and
friendly with everybody, and I appreciated the same rule of life
very much in him. One day another boy attached himself to me
in hope of earning something: he was politeness itself where I was
concerned, but when the girls came by with their baskets on their
heads, he taunted them with scraps of lewd songs in Creole French
expecting to amuse me. As for the lame or weak-eyed, he had a
heartless nickname for every one, and after he had hooted it till
they menaced him with their sticks he would split with laughter.
Jason knew how I enjoyed this walk, he always knew what I was
up to when we were not together. However, I mentioned to him
that I had been befriended by a friend of his, one Gerald, where-
upon his lip flickered in a grimace of disdain.
He had his opinion, too, of white people's indelicacies. Up the
valley another day when my tribe of colored small-boy followers
was larger than usual, we were stopped by a down-at-heel ex-
planter who came sprinting out of his house to chat with a fellow
human, as he called me. There was certainly a great deal of talk
pent up in him; he was like the hermit in Rasselas, only too ripe
for intercourse with the outside world. But presently he took note
of his inferiors, my companions. "Whose boy are you?" he asked
each one in turn, and got for reply, Captain This's or Tom That's.
"These youngsters are like the mule that knows only his fa-
ther," he tittered. "They don't brag about being their mothers'
At this the boys looked sour. Jason grabbed up a stone and
MANY A GREEN ISLE 28
sailed it into the hedge. I too was offended. "In my country
when a stranger asks a boy whose child he is, he names his
father," I pointed out; "that is, unless he thinks the stranger is
more likely to know his mother. Perhaps," I went on, inspired,
"you would know these boys' mothers better than their fathers?"
"Hee! hee! hee!" giggled the ex-planter. But he let the topic
Usually it was Jason, however, who gave the bright tone to
our endless conversation. He had a natural knowledge of what
was interesting, and would break into the story of The Monkey
and the Bag of Honey \ or perhaps it would be some violent tale
of cross-purpose island love and murder. Of the gross facts of
life he was already thoroughly in command at fourteen; there
was no thing or act that he hesitated squarely to name if it came
within the scope of his story. I sometimes looked sideways in
astonishment at him to find anyone so genuinely superior to
Avont la line la levt"
he would sing in a not very tuneful voice, swinging the water-
proof Carib basket that carried our dry clothes and picnic pro-
visions.* He knew the coarse songs as well as his friend Gerald
did, and loved Carnival time when rude jokes and lampoons were
But he also knew the names of birds and plants and what they
were good for in this rainy world of lawnlike roads and perpetual
cascades of gushing mountain water. On the Morne he was small
boy enough when showing me the old cannon to insert an
imaginary ball and sizzle like the fuse. "Bang!" he barked, throw-
ing his body back; we both looked out to sea where an imaginary
'Free translation: "Hot stuff, old girl, hot stuff! before the moon comes up."
Dtfe (fire) is from the two words, du feu.
29 THE BROTHERS
ship lay, and "Zowie!" he cried, leaping into the air when it was
blown to smithereens. "A direct hit," he reported with relish.
One thing that Jason liked very much to talk about was his
future. He had it planned. Of course the present was very lively:
in addition to being a taxidermist, and cashew-nut artist, and sales-
man, he was a commercial fisherman on a small scale, a boat
carpenter, guide, and gardener. He umpired cricket games and was
the Jubilee swimming and diving champion of his age in Roseau.
His present earnings not only paid for his clothes and keep, but
covered the rent on the family's provision ground in the hills.
Besides, he always had twopence for the cinema on Friday which
was bargain day, and when he felt exceptionally rich and happy
he would come home with a frosted layer cake from the baker's
for a treat for everybody.
All the same, the future was brighter. In Guadeloupe there was
great need for hotel servants who could speak English, and since
he was at home both in English and Creole French, he was going
to go over and while butlering learn to speak book French. After
this he intended to be a seaman, and work up to the rank of
second officer. The British marine he knew would never give a
man of his color such an opportunity, and he was realist enough
to concede that captain's rank was all but out of reach even with
the tolerant French. But as high as it was reasonable to aim he set
Or sometimes Jason would talk about the supernatural. I en-
joyed this especially, because his anecdotes were firsthand.
Once, for instance, when he was little more than a baby, the
Devil had come to him in the family's cliff-top garden in the
guise of a familiar neighbor woman wheedling him to perdition.
But already he knew the test: people walk on the ground, but
spirits float ever so slightly above it. This woman's foot soles cast
shadows. Staring fascinated at her, he still kept his fists gripped
MANY A GREEN ISLE 30
on a yam stake; and presently, vexed by his stubbornness, she
gave up her tempting and vanished into the cassava plot.
Another time, when he was alone in the hut one night the Evil
One came again with a pack of spirits, scratching and scraping
around the walls and clambering over the roof thatch. He could
hear them gambling in the dooryard, slamming down the cards,
shouting out the betting terms, and then in sweet whispers
through the chinks coaxing him to join them. But as before, he
resisted, hugging his shivering white puppy in his arms; till sud-
denly, with howls of derisive laughter, "Tic! Tac! He slip our
hands!" the pack screeched and whizzed away over the dark
" 'He slip our hands!' " Jason screeched again, catching at my
sleeve and looking me panic-stricken in the eye. There was no
doubt about its having been a real yell that burnt itself into his
brain that night.
With experiences like this behind him he had some advice to
offer. My polite way of greeting people was all well enough by
day, but after dark, and on the Morne roads especially, I ran the
risk of giving the spirits power over me. These wanderers, if
spoken to, take control. "They make to dazzle you" it had
happened so many pitiful times already and next day you are
found crazed, or drowned, or dead at the bottom of a precipice.
Jason was generous in more ways than in giving advice. Ho
would appear with a plump-skinned tangerine in his pocket, or
an avocado in which the seed rattled properly, or a bundle of
dried khus-khus roots to scent the linen in my suitcase, One day
he popped a "Carib handcuff" over my finger and pulled it tight
to show how the aborigines were reputed to have made their
prisoners writhe. Pleased with my pantomime of anguish, he gave
it to me for a keepsake. As for his ample lore of Roseau and
Dominica, he put it quite at my disposal
31 THE BROTHERS
Nor was I forgetful of him. We ate spongecakes and custard
ice cream in a parlour he was glad to recommend, with an ultra-
modest maid in a hat three feet broad to take the order; it was
a spotless coop of a place, with an old drop-leaf table glistening
darkly and a nosegay of pinks and marigolds like a floral bon-
fire. When we parted, a shilling or so would go in his pocket:
I knew he would make good use of the money, and he took it
without a fuss because he knew that he was being helpful. "Good-
by!" he would say at the boardinghouse door, "I must go home
to play with my bird."
One afternoon I went to see Jason's bird. It was a white long-
legged wader, and according to all rules should have been miser-
able in its box. But when he lay on his belly and beamed in at it
through the slats, it turned its head on one side and looked back
at him very cheerfully. Twice a day he took a cheesecloth bag
to the river and netted minnows to feed it; no doubt now it was
hoping for an extra tea party.
At the same time I saw the Apperly house when all the family
was at home. It was a model of condensation. Not ten feet square,
the one room was divided by a screen that hid the bed. There
were good coffee cups on the dresser, plenty of Bible pictures, a
shelf of books, a gramophone, and a tiny desk at which Murchi-
son, who was the family scholar, pursued his studies. In fact the
place gave me several hints on how to arrange my own house,
on my own green isle, when at last I should build it.
Mrs. Apperly I knew no other name to call her seated her-
self on the bed, out of sight, but where she could join in the
talk; Murchison sat at his desk, Jason on the doorsill with his
bird, and I on the extra chair. The house thus was very well
MANY A GREEN ISLE 32
filled up. We listened to a hymn played on the gramophone, and
then to Murchison, who, leaning forward so that the failing
daylight would illumine his Bible, read a chapter that bore on
a point of faith raised by his mother. Meanwhile, in the court-
yard the neighbor women were taking in clothes that had spent
the day bleaching on piles of clean stones; the chickens went
to roost on the handles of a decrepit wheelbarrow, and put their
heads under their wings.
Much though I admired this occasion, in one respect I wished
it were different. A psalm full of subtly plain-chosen imagery
would have been the thing to hear read in this setting, or one of
the Lord's incomparable parables. What we got, however, was
neither narrative nor poetry. It was a chapter of theological
abstraction. In the face of Scripture of this kind, my brain shuts
up like a sea anemone confronted by something that looks to be
dangerous rather than nourishing. I tried to appear intelligent and
even to understand how the words so earnestly read meant what
Murchison interpreted them to mean. But it was no use. My
expression was fatuous, my comments were foolish. I fear he sus-
pected me ever after of being a mental lightweight.
All the same it pleased Murchison to have the white stranger
for a friend. We had met some days previous at Goodwill, a
pebble beach to which Jason had led me for a swim; he had rowed
over from town in a boat owned by the two of them, a dugout
with keel and stem projecting like a scimitar blade in front and
gunwales of built-up planking. In fact, it was a boat typical of
the French Caribbees, and I was delighted to have the chance to
try my hand in it.
Murchison plied the oars, I the paddle, and Jason, beaming
with pleasure to have brought his brother and his American
friend together, curled up on the cobblestone ballast in the
bottom. Over us Dominica leaned its great rainy mountains; its
lee-rside sea was undulating and glassy. The world looked hand-
33 THE BROTHERS
some; but what made it seem a truly mouth-watering fore-
taste of what my own island was to be and here Miranda's
happy exclamation came echoing from The Tempest was that
it had such people in it.
Murchison was blest with style. Like Jason's, his bronze skin
was perfect. His features were neat and regular, his manner,
urbane, and his speech had that precision and schooled elegance
that make an American notice with dismay the sound of his own
slurred pronunciation. In speech and looks, as in his knowledge
of theology, he gave me ground for envy.
He also excelled Jason in these respects. Jason's English was
picturesque and vigorous rather than aristocratic. Murchison de-
plored its quality, and often told him to cease fraternizing with
the waterfront loafers and sailors who taught him their low-class
As for theology, Murchison's studies had persuaded him that
the Catholic church in which he had been nurtured was a house
of error, and he had saved not only himself but his mother and
Jason from it. Mrs. Apperly, I could see, had taken to the new
opportunity for godly disputation with deep-bosomed zest; Jason,
too, did not regard his conversion as anything but fortunate.
But while his elders theologized like good Witnesses, he played
with his bird, and then went his way again among those island
paths fringed with tufts of giant grass where the spirits wander
and rise up, dazzling, if you speak.
Another difference between Murchison and Jason was, that
whereas Jason was well-to-do, Murchison was poor. Jason's
swimming trunks, for instance, were of lilac-colored silk; he had
bought the material and his mother had made them, to wear in
the Jubilee diving competitions. Murchison, on the other hand,
wore a pair of old work pants slashed off above the knee. When
you are nineteen it takes more to be rich than when you are five
years younger. Life costs more. True, earning power should
MANY A GREEN ISLE 34
increase in proportion. But it was easy to feel sorry for Murchi-
son, in fact he did so himself, and thus I ordered a job of tailoring
from him to give him a little business.
The tailor shop was a hovel and the tailor who sat in its door
was a hunchback working the treadle of his sewing machine with
one grotesquely outstretched leg. It embarrassed Murchison to
take me in. But it was a pleasure to introduce a white client to his
fellow apprentices, and his apologies for the room's untidiness
were as smooth as those later when he apologized for the poverty
of his home. Theirs was a poor home, he told me on that already
described occasion, and they poor people, but they did their best
to live decently. Such remarks were the sort of thing I never
heard from Jason, whose politeness was instinctively more subtle.
Nor did Jason trouble me with problems in social tact. Murchi-
son, older and more bruised by the world, was touchy, I had to
be careful to notice him in a crowd. However, he was a far better
musician than Jason was, for which reason I proposed that we
spend an evening together, playing the mouth organ in the Botani-
cal Gardens and swapping songs. Younger brothers embarrass
older brothers at these times of artistic effort: Jason was not to be
included. "Where shall we meet?" I asked, for even in Dominica
black-and-white social events call for some discretion. But Mur-
chison insisted on stopping for me at my lodgings. It would be
no trouble for him at all, he said.
Here he was mistaken. Pride led him rashly to ring the front
door bell; whereupon Clarice the maid, who was several degrees
darker than himself, told him to step around to the back. He had
come early, too; instead of being where I could fly to the rescue,
I was at dinner in the garden eating Creole frogs' legs very
Out flounced Clarice, her eyes big with outrage. "This tailor
of yours thinks that he is great, but he is NOT great!" she panted,
35 THE BROTHERS
pulling the dish out from under my fork and thumping it on
Napkin in hand I went to see my visitor.
"Such treatment is intolerable!" Murchison began, looking
over the back gate. "I am humiliated especially for you: this is an
insult more to you than to me! Let me urge that hereafter you
notify these lodging-keepers when to expect your guests." He
was very angry.
There was nothing to do but to remind him that though the
proprietors were colored like himself, their foreign patrons were
white and often prejudiced; and that for the peace of the place
rules were set up that I could not break even when they were
so unpleasantly forced on my attention. It was a poor kind of
comfort I fear. Later, when I had had time to grow more huffy
I wished I had told him to switch from St. Paul's letters to the
Beatitudes for his guidance, but fortunately I did not think of
this at the time. No, I had erred in expecting Jason's easy realism
of the fellow when I knew very well that he was a proud romantic.
However, it is astonishing how inconsistent people can be in
their pride. And since I have found Murchisons on every island
just, thank heaven, as I have found serene characters like Jason
I take pains to report the course of my relationship with these
Within an hour proud Murchison had turned our friendly eve-
ning into a begging party. His back-gate speech, stormily de-
manding equal status, was followed by the elaborately approached
plea that I make him the gift of my good mouth organ. "Or if
you have some old worn shirts . . ." he went on, the chance to
get something for nothing being too good not to press. He strove
his best to push me up on the usual white man's pedestal from
which benevolence condescendingly flows. For though it is a
fine thing to be an equal and Murchison insisted that he was one,
MANY A GREEN ISLE 36
it is also very cozy to be owed consideration as an inferior, and
Murchison wanted this too.
As a dejected superior to a much elated inferior, I gave him
the mouth organ for which he had begged. He played it well,
better than I, and there was small doubt about his being unable
to provide himself with such a luxury. He lacked Jason's re-
sources. I also treated him to a rum or two in each of the upstairs
places past which our path to the Gardens seemed circuitously
to lead. Drinking, as he reflectively explained while I did the
ordering, was contrary to his principles; however, to oblige me,
and so on. And when the plump barmaids came close with their
trays, I could sense the sap rising in his lean, well-tailored figure.
My shirts I kept for myself, and after that night did not see
much of Murchison.
No, when I left Dominfca it was Jason who saw me off. In fact
it was owing to his care that I got aboard my ship. Having
arrived steerage, it was my destiny to leave on a bauxite freighter;
she called at Roseau not on a morning as expected but in the
middle of the night.
Jason roused Clarice and Clarice roused me. I looked down in
the street from my window and there was the little fellow with
earnest face upturned. He had a boat ready and had called a porter
to carry the heavy luggage.
Down the empty streets we trudged, the porter behind us with
the two suitcases piled on his head, and our shadows wheeling
about us on the pavement when we passed a lamp. Jason was in
his poorest clothes, they were his freighter-visiting costume. At
two in the morning he did not expect to sell anything, but would
go out even so and perhaps learn something that would be useful
when he had become a seaman*
From the officers' deck I looked down on him again, Some-
body had given him a cigarette: he knew the crew already. He
knew the town's cheap girls, too, who had swarmed aboard to sell
37 THE BROTHERS
fruit. They were in and out of the forecastle in a shameless style.
It was all very coarse and loose and no place for a judge's son to
be, at fourteen, no matter what his color. Poor tike! could he hold
to his plans for a good life, I wondered? The small distance by
which the best of us keep ahead of the Devil seemed alarmingly
small for him in this dismal last scene. Perhaps I was having a
glimpse of him as he really was that is, removed from our
tombstone man's edifying influence.
But the siren soon blew. It was time to go ashore. Out of the
forecastle the last girls came running in gales of laughter, and
lifted their baskets of unsold huge Dominican oranges to their
heads again. Jason climbed up to shake hands and say good-by.
"Safe passage!" he called as he went down the ladder. "Tomor-
row I'm going to caulk a boat."
It was a remark that jounced me back to cheerfulness. He had
rounded out the term of our intimacy perfectly in key. I could
count on him to slip through the Devil's hands as he had from
the beginning. "Tomorrow" yes, that was Jason all over
"tomorrow I'm going to caulk a boat."
FOUR IN ONE SHOE
R. P. LETCHMERE GUPPY IS NOT ONLY
an ichthyologist but a son of an ichthyologist to boot* The guppies
of our aquariums, in fact those little fish that transparently reveal
the process of their childbearing were named in his father's
honor. But he also is an authority on almost any phase of the
natural history of his native Trinidad and Tobago. He has written
a book on their butterflies. Their botany is his ice cream. And
when he goes to London he immediately calls at the zoo to have
a chat with the island birds there in their own island language:
I wish I could be present at one of these reunions, to see him
planted chubby and pink before the cages, twittering or hooting
according to the species while the astounded birds first tip for-
ward to cock their heads and then tip back to answer.
Yes, Mr. Guppy is a gentleman and a scholar. From his Chan-
cellor House tea table he looks out benignly over bustling Port-
of-Spain at the hill's foot, to the enamel-blue surface of the Gulf
of Paria, which every year grows busier with shipping. Or he
putters among his fish tubs and at his writing. It is a life of fruit-
Only the cook upsets him.
"She proves that this hue and cry after slum clearance is all
39 FOUR IN ONE SHOE
nonsense!" he will declare, starting forward in his seat. "People
who live in the slums don't want to live otherwise. They disdain
fresh air and sanitation. Cook has her room up here, private, cool,
away from the smells and noises of the city clean, new, modern
but when dinner is over, off she packs to her own hot hovel
on I don't know what back street and lets her advantages go to
pot. It puts me out of patience!"
But the cook, after all, was no ichthyologist, nor a gentleman
and a scholar. And since I belong to the younger generation,
noted for examining the utterances of its elders to find flaws if
possible, I examined Mr. Guppy's views to see if the cook's con-
trary ones might not boast some merit.*
Privacy was perhaps not what the cook wanted, at 9 P.M.
Why should she? The white guests at Chancellor House, drink-
ing the tea she made, gobbling her scones, and reaching enthusi-
astically for second or third slices of her guava-jelly roll, never
gave a thought to the author of these good things. They treated
her to all the privacy she had need of, for the day. At night she
wanted to talk babies and salvation with somebody who thought
about them as she did. On the Hill, babies were important, of
course, but they were sure to be white and all look alike; whereas
the natal events on her own street were worthy of the shrewdest
prophecy and speculation. As for their souls' welfare, the Hill
gentry regarded themselves as saved per se; the subject had no
further interest. Instead, they talked about fish not even fit to
eat, European politics, the view, and other such stupidness.
I belong on the side of the ichthyologists, myself. I was brought
up to be independent of other people for my fun. Fish are com-
pany enough much of the time. However, some human sociability
is essential, and for a really nourishing and refreshing draught of it,
give me plain poor people for my company.
* There are those among the recently weaned, I notice, who are so absurd as to
apply to my views a scrutiny of this kind.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 40
The art of leaning out of the window is one I studied while
completing my education in New York: tenement friends, there,
were certainly very expert at it, they could do it for hours at a
time. They fetched pillows and put their elbows on them and
their faces between their hands. This is one of the good positions.
The chief thing to learn, however, as in formal religion, is not
the ceremonial postures, but to appreciate the small rewards you
get for your pains. A fat lady blowing her nose, the postman
coming along these are the things you must learn to find worth
In Dominica the accomplishment proved of value. Tropical
hotels are usually in gardens, but in Roseau by great good luck
my window opened into a maze of poor folks' houses. Thus when
I was not out with one of the Apperly brothers I was busy
It was a Syrian family that lived over the way. Though they
were immigrants to Dominica, they had already learned to eat
green coconuts for breakfast. No table needed to be spread: the
vendor at the gate would hack the nuts open with a practiced
cutlass, and the brass-mannered maid-of-all-work would carry
them in. Drained of their coconut water this was breakfast's
first course they were fetched back to be split in two for the
second, of still jellylike meat.
Then the boys of the family would take their baths. The prob-
lem was to slip past that tease, the maid, without her snatching
off the towels that they had tied around their middles. It was a
comedy that reminded me of the leaning I'd done on Saturday
on Roseau's upper bridge: from among the bathers below a couple
of "golden girls" had waved up kisses and arched their bodies to
let me enjoy what they were enjoying so much themselves, a
forbidden public nakedness with which salutation the laughter
that came up was as hearty and free as that of the Syrians* black
maid now, when the boys' rude kicks at her found their mark*
Beside the Syrians' gate was a row of shanties. In the second
of these lived a cobbler; he would stretch his feet out of the
door for coolness, hammer away, and curl his lips forward in
loud-voiced song. One afternoon, leaning back between his legs
a friend sat peaceably with a sleepy small girl in his arms; on the
neighboring step sat a young mother making baby clothes for
her next; on the curb was an older woman, ironing vigorously
on a low table set across the gutter. In fact it was a harmonious,
Creole-jabbering, close-hearted group; I liked each member of it.
When the "Lonely Boy" soft-drink cart came by and every-
body had a dim ha'penny glass of something, they lifted their
glasses and nodded to me because they knew Fd be pleased. In
Roseau I had an easy reputation. And it did please me; inwardly
I elected the whole batch of them to the citizenry of my island.
Certainly, if I had been the Chancellor House cook I should have
preferred their company of an evening to solitude in my cool
and smell-less Hill hermitage.
c o c o *r u T
The Dominicans, true enough, share the cook's views and put
them into practice. On a roomy island with uplands not only
uninhabited but in part unexplored, they crowd themselves to-
gether in coast towns for sociability's sake. They are quite ready
to walk miles a day to and from their gardens on the airy heights.
Who wants to live in a cassava patch? Town is the place for
There are islands in the West Indies, however, where this free-
MANYA GREEN ISLE 42
dom of choice is not responsible for crowded living. Vivimos
como cuatro en un zapato, say the Puerto Ricans, who do not
altogether like it: "We live four in one shoe." There are over 500
of them, as a matter of statistics, to each square mile; and since
most of each mile in an agricultural country must be used for
agriculture, these five hundred people see a good deal of each
other on the little corner of it that is left for them to live in.
But Puerto Rico is not the West Indies' sole example of a
crowded populace, nor is it the most extreme. Carriacou, not yet
discovered by the sociologists, supports a peasant population of
700 to the mile; these stoics subsist, too, without any source of
fresh water except as they catch it in rainstorms and store it
away in cisterns. As for Barbados, that island's uncomfortable
boast is 1,100 inhabitants per mile: how in the name of Euclid
can so little ground grow enough sugar to support so many
In such places the delights of sociability are not optional, as
with the Dominicans or the Chancellor House cook. They are
obligatory. The air incessantly rustles with the noise of conversa-
tion. Every country road tends to become a street,
But Barbados's crowded living is an old thing. The island has
had time long since to adjust itself to life four in one shoe. Major
George Washington, who brought his ailing brother to Barbados
for his health, marveled at its populousness in 1752. In its long
prime the island was the money-maker, the darling, the peerless
one among British colonies. Its exquisitely quiet country church-
yards, its gracious old mansions in aristocratically spacious lawns,
give the island a kind of beauty that not one other in the Antilles
can duplicate. And with these surviving graces comes the still
comforting aroma of gilt-edged securities, to which charms
against fate the island owes much of its continuing stability.
But dividends from the outside world, gingerly dispensed for
goods and services, cannot forever span the gap between island
43 FOUR IN ONE SHOE
earnings and the needs of a bottled-up but still growing populace.
Bridgetown, where the idlers most gather, is not altogether a
pleasant place for a white visitor. The streets echo with impor-
tunities. When a tenacious pander followed me indoors while I
had my hair cut, to continue his whispering whenever the bar-
ber's back was turned, it made me itch. "Enormous populations,
if they be beggars, are disgusting, like moving cheese the more
the worse," said Emerson: it is an itchy dictum. For what this
pest illustrated was the lengths to which people must go, in
crowded places, to earn their keep.
In Carriacou money is far scarcer and arable land not much
more abundant per capita than in Barbados. The island neverthe-
less seems more happy. Limes and Marie Galante cotton are the
only sources of its revenue, if you except the labor some Carria-
couans do in Venezuela and Cayenne (they return with their
wages romantically in gold dust). But the land is owned almost
wholly by the people who work it. What little revenue it does
produce goes directly into the pockets of their own much patched
Too poor to support a cinema, they are mercifully spared a
comparison of their lives with those lived in the wonderland of
Hollywood. It does not occur to them to miss champagne at
breakfast. In fact white colonials, always expensive for colored
natives to ape, do not exist in their community. The clergy come
from elsewhere, true enough, like Gouyave's or like those white
gods that freakish winds used sometimes to bring to the New
World from European shipwrecks in pre-Columbian days. But
the habits of these outsiders are necessarily frugal, and their color
singularity, as in the case of the old shipwrecked gods, no doubt
gives them a special spiritual value.
Thus, in a healthful climate and amid seas well supplied with
fish, the islanders live on as near one plane of social equality as
conveniently can be found. Instead of some dwelling in man-
MANY A GREEN ISLE 44
sions, some in hovels, every house is modest. Lived in by their
owners, most of them are well kept. "Slum clearance" has come
as a natural process since the old days of the sugar estates; the
results are rather heartening.
Where revenue is small and the land your own, you grow as
much of your food as you can to avoid sending money elsewhere
for it. The automatic result is a garden community of a kind. To
prowl Lesterres's roadlike streets, for example, winding among
mixed tracts of field and garden and orchard, with nets drying
on the palmy seabeach below and no super-landlord anywhere
in sight, is an experience not un-Arcadian.
Or such a poor town as Mount Tryall might please even Mr.
Guppy, though no alley in the back quarters of Port-of -Spain
could show dwellings more rudimentary. Certainly he would
find the place well aired: its trees are pollarded to the point of
butchery to provide fodder for the cattle; besides, it is perched
on a windy ridge with the glittering expanse of Atlantic and
Caribbean far below, and a long green-brown mantle of cotton
fields draped over the hill's descending folds. Nor are the huts
the tottering kind, to suggest that their occupants devote the day
to reading movie magazines and wishing life were grander. Even
a mud house can look self-respecting, and this the Mount Tryall
houses do. In them, moreover, no beggars live for which reason,
if I were to settle in a crowded place, a peasant-owned island like
Carriacou would be the one for me.
But crowds can be a nuisance as I saw very plainly in Carriacou
when Elfrida, who milked the cow at the back door morning and
evening, offered to teach me some of the old French Creole
songs. Not at the house, she insisted, because she would be
laughed at. We went across the street into the shade of a tamarind
growing by the sea.
This was out of the frying pan and no mistake* In three minutes
Elfrida was hurling rocks to keep her friends at a respectful dis-
45 FOUR IN ONE SHOE
tance she was a natural-mannered country girl. But defense was
vain. There were not half enough rocks at hand to maim the tor-
menters who came swarming. No, Elfrida broke down. Over-
whelmed with indignation and embarrassment she sat all in a
huddle. "I wonder the gentleman don't ax to take a snap of you,
you look so ugly/' tittered one onlooker and got his face slapped.
There was a big laugh.
Perhaps it was because I had footed the hill roads and coasts
all day and was dog-tired, or perhaps it was my soul's kinship
with Emerson and Mr. Guppy something suddenly made it im-
perative to bolt. I had to get away from these maggots. They
were making me itch. Slam went the door behind me when I
shut out the too teeming world. And then most aggravating of all
was to perceive that the one ditty I had been quick enough to jot
was a jewel a conjuration against the Evil Eye's turning a
gardener's greens to weeds. Some day, armed with more social
patience, I shall go back to Carriacou and wheedle Elfrida to
resume the lesson.
In Puerto Rico, where land is plentiful according to the Bar-
badian scale and the Carriacouans would find cash incredibly
abundant, these blessings are not very well distributed. But say-
ing this does not settle the question of what to do next. The
problem of distribution is a puzzler when those to whom you
make wealth available, instead of being individually enriched by
it, are only made more numerous.
The benefits the Puerto Ricans have gained from their con-
nection with Uncle Sam are unfortunately of just this nature. A
vast segment of that reproachful people would yet slumber in
MANY A GREEN ISLE 46
limbo if our blundering old codger had not made them economic
possibilities. The island's crowding, unlike Barbados's, is recent.
Nor has the crush led to a modest standard of desires as in
Carriacou, though God knows the Puerto Ricans display fortitude
of the most sinewy kind in doing without what we should call
necessities. Money they must have. It is the basis of life. There
are always people in sight who do have plenty of it, and to habits
of wealth these poor Latins are fatally susceptible. At cockfights
and the races it is not sporting to bet according to your purse;
the cinema, motor travel, and clothes of fashionable cut are indis-
pensable. Home, however, as a place on which it is a pleasure to
lavish money and care is not much of a hobby. If sacrifices must
be made there are already so many babies to make them for that
mere real estate is subject to neglect. At any rate Puerto Rico's
city poor, for some reason or other, live in slums fit to stop a
visitor in his tracks.
The island has many fine sights to show, model housing schemes
included in the number. The fortifications of San Juan are among
the world's most impressively tremendous: here for once is a
Spanish seaport which in the filibusters' swashbuckling seven-
teenth century was never ravished. The panorama from the coleus-
banked road above Cayey is like Moses's glimpse of the Promised
Land. The Arecibo Valley with its vine-draped cliffs reflected in
the river, and feathery groves of giant canes, is to my mind the
handsomest in the Antilles: the very view of it from the sea, miles
distant, suggests a gateway to the fabulous. As for the endless
hard-surface highways tunneling between scarlet-flowered flam-
boyant trees, here is something genuinely unique to this lucky
island. But if the extraordinary is to be included with the beau-
tiful, the city slums also deserve remark.
In San Juan I prowled neighborhoods of teeming shanties built
in the tidal swamps, where children grow up playing on rickety
plank runways, and yesterday's offal drifts back and forth beneath
47 FOUR IN ONE SHOE
them, mingled with today's. The top of the beach at Arecibo, a
no man's land too unsafe in a storm for commercial building,
has been crammed with teetering hovels, streetless and without
plumbing as usual; in fact the beach below is not only play-
ground but a mile-long latrine. The hill quarters by Ponce's
picturesque old aqueduct are studies in scrap-bag architecture,
heaped, jumbled, jammed together, and overrun, believe me, with
Such sights bring the vats of indignation to the seething point;
however, as when Mr. Guppy spoke his piece, it is well to take
the cook's views into consideration before letting the vats boil
over. The slums of Puerto Rico have this point of superiority
when compared with those of Barbados or New York that they
are built by the people who live in them. Like shantytowns any-
where, these dumps reflect a spirit of independence and self-help
that is healthy even though they themselves are not.
On land (or in shallow water) too precarious to lure capital
investment the poor take squatters' privilege. Slowly collecting
ragtags of lumber, packing cases, and bits of tin, they build some-
thing as near the heart's desire as circumstances seem to warrant.
The process is laborious I have held a bit of crating in place
myself while a crooked nail was being driven but it is far faster
and more automatic than benevolent housing schemes engineered
from above. And if some of the builders spend as much on the
horses on one unlucky Sunday as they do on home sweet home
in a year and call the balance even, they think differently from
me, but this does not necessarily mean that they are depraved or
Another point that I, a Northerner, must be cautious to remem-
ber is that West Indians who live six to a room are very little in it.
Theirs is an outdoor existence in the tropics. Shelter is not so
needful nor so dear to them as to me and mine in Minnesota.
Sleeping, too, poses less of a problem than a Northerner would
MANY A GREEN ISLE 48
expect. Four children in a bed is not out of the question when
covers are not required: two heads go at the foot of the bed, two
at the head, that's that. I have seen it done. Of course it must be
tiresome to wake and find little sister's big toe screwed in your
ear, but the thing to do is to unscrew it and go back to sleep.
As for social pleasures, these city slums provide a perpetual
abundance. There is always somebody ready for a crap game or
to talk babies and novenas. Music thrives in a vulgar soil I recall
a back-street concert in Mayagiiez, for instance, of a quality rare
in quarters of greater cultural advantage.
Ten men were crowded in the little room, they had three
guitars among them. Overhead a dim lamp flared; the curl of
their glossy hair reflected its gleam, or a bronze brow, or a moist
thrust-out lower lip, or the curves and strings of the instruments
Between pieces there was laughter and joking. Each singer
wished to pass off his just finished effort as a trifle not worthy
of the applause given it. But at the first note of the next song
what a change! Some heads were bowed. Others were lifted back,
eyes closed. It was like a company of masks and statues.
Meanwhile the artist, sitting on the out-cdgc of his chair, struck
his instrument, and delivered his heart into our hands. He was
inspired oracular. Phrases begun as guttural snarls or falsetto
whimpers ended full-throated, coppery, and triumphant. Others,
twisting up in arabesques loudly melancholy, sank away again in
husky whispers. Then would come a stanza coldly expressionless
that stood my hair on end.
This was a serious occasion. But nowhere better than in a set-
ting like it, with rude girls pushing and the table wet with spilled
liquor, do the rollicking songs start up. Their humor sets the
children in the windows to grinning and tittering, hands clap,
and the refrain, bawled out a hundred times, is every time bawled
49 FOUR IN ONE SHOE
with more abandon. It is a soul exercise of a kind that stretches
the soul muscles to delicious elasticity.
The paradoxical truth is that slum life boasts its own positive
joys and comforts. My father had a fishing coat that my mother
several times threw away; but he would fetch it back again from
the ash can and give it a shake: its spots were dear to him, and
when he caught a fish he could wipe his hands without making
the old coat smell one jot fishier. Men love old clothes because
they feel free in them. Some people love the slums for a like
reason, the Chancellor House cook among the number.
In fact there is something of the slums in all of us that needs
intercourse with the gutter now and then. Or if you prefer the
classic terms, let me say an earthiness that needs reunion with the
earth. The great works of art, the Shakespeare plays, the Bibles,
have room and fearlessness to do this. They feed not only the
ethereal sweetness that is in us but our necessary ordures. People
like Jason Apperly who sink some of their roots in a rowdy
water-front society that is, in the dirt have perhaps as good a
chance at good growth as the Murchisons who turn upside down
and plant themselves in the windy skies of speculative theology.
Murchison's boughs, as a matter of fact, showed a disappointing
tendency to scrape the ground.
On my island there will be no slums, however. I am positive
about that. My town will be a flowerier Gouyave or a more com-
pact Lesterres. Like Mr. Guppy I belong neither on the peaks
nor in the mud ours is a middle zone. For food ethereal, give
me FitzGerald's unaspiring letters; for Antaean coupling with
crude Mother Earth, a garden, not too large. But when I lean on
my trowel and remember the crowded places of the isles, some-
times I wonder if mine well can do without one. Should my island,
the question is, be bowdlerized?
ENGLISH LESSONS IN CUBA
_ TONE WHO SPEAKS ENGLISH AND HAS
a fondness for horses and cup custards is likely to enjoy Cuba.
To be good, cup custards must be smooth. The secrets of
achieving this the Cuban cooks perfectly know, they make them
every day. In fact, in the broad realm of the cooking of eggs Cuba
inherits the full grandeur of Hispanic tradition. Shirred eggs
malaguena, at the old Ambos Mundos in Havana, are an experi-
ence to be remembered with no halfhearted thankfulness.
As for horses, the only kind I know how to manage at present
are those under a drafting table; still this does not prevent my
admiring the flesh and blood kind that neigh and switch their
tails. Unsaddled, they look noble and mythological; on which
sort of creature in my own free island life, God help me to gallop
into the brine each morning for a jointly-relished bath! For
nothing seems more enviable to me or more truly lordly than
the kind of riding, neither "professional'* nor fancy, that is as
effortless as breathing such, for instance, as you sec everywhere
in Santa Clara or Camaguey provinces in Cuba, over the broad
grasslands and down the cane-field lanes.
Of English lessons, too, it is a pleasure to speak* They give me
opportunity to brag of an uncle who, with the unlikely talisman
of a doctor's thesis on French Agglutinations in "de" tucked in
51 ENGLISH LESSONS IN CUBA
his vest, went to Latin America and made a fortune. First, how-
ever, this philologist wanted some practical Spanish, and his
method of acquiring it in a hurry was to go to Madrid and give
English lessons. Pupils, as I have often heard him say, teach you
so much. The blunders they make reveal where their language
differs from yours in idiom on which differences, in Madrid,
he was quick to seize, and so left Old Spain soon for the New,
jabbering Spanish like a born Iberian.
This method of learning another language has always seemed
beautiful to me. Its simplicity and its perversity give it a double
charm. Moreover, when you teach other people your language
they are the ones to make jackasses of themselves, not you. Yours
is the part of charity, dignity, and repose.
All the same, my approach to the foreign languages has always
been the groveling kind. Unlike my uncle I am not a linguist
born, and so until I got to Cuba I writhed and agonized and was
ridden by some teacher or other who knew a great deal more
than I did about the subject in hand. It was a career of mortifica-
tion. Even in Cuba, at first, my panic upon hearing the clickety-
clack of talk in the streets sent me crawling to a tutor. Could she,
would she, help me to untie the knot of bashfulness at the root
of my tongue and take the wax out of my baffled ears?
Poor woman, she did her best. It was all very painful. Even
now I see the grille on her stair, and Please ring the bell written
in English under the Spanish phrase, as if phooey! I couldn't
read the latter.
Our. efforts were not without fruit. Everybody in Havana
speaks English, people say, though this is by no means true: that
teeming city can blot up a horde of tourists without changing
its complexion. I, for one Havanese, spoke Spanish, bewildering
the waiters with pippy-voiced requests for la sal or el vinagre,
and stepping up to the barber with an anxiously rehearsed speech
meaning "Please cut my hair."
MANY A GREEN ISLE 52
In that barbershop scene I must have looked a lamb come to
the shearing, or perhaps in my attempt to sound offhand I said
"Please cut my horses/' the words for "horse" and "hair" being
much alike. At any rate the barber, who was learning English in
a night class, implored me to address him in that language. He
wanted the practice. And with a bow he produced a news-
paper published by his fellow students, for me to examifte while
I had my hair (or horses) cut.
The joke column, written all in English by these hard-working
learners, was indeed very funny. As my uncle says, it is the mis-
takes people make in using your language that reveal the structure
of theirs. However, I had no time to reflect upon such clues, I
was too busy giving the barber the lesson he craved. In class, as
he had managed to grumble, they tended to discuss the pencil,
the inkwell, and the pen, whereas what he yearned for was
English to help him in the barber business.
This I labored to supply. When next an American had his
horses cut in that white tile cave, "Wet or dry?" my student
inquired at the end of the process, brushing him off with a happy
If in this episode I began to sense that English was a sort of
currency in Cuba, to be generous with which could be a kindness,
I guessed it all the more clearly when I got into the provincial
cities, Matanzas for one.
Matanzas is a big, out-of-hand seaport that sprawls around a
bay and pushes up a hill or two. It has a sleepy cathedral in its
middle, and on the road to La Playa a neighborhood of villas,
gray, classic, and columnar, like Pompeii before the eruption.
There are caves near by for people not yet sick of caves. Best of
all, above it looms a breezy ridge where the casino maintains a
53 ENGLISH LESSONS IN CUBA
shrine of religious pilgrimage, the Cuban Monserrate. This is a
spot worth visiting, and a great many people go there without
need of advice from me, to solicit miracles of the Virgin and to
eat ice cream.
Eastward from the Monserrate the hill drops away toward the
harbor, with the city in its lap: the various-tinted plaster facets of
the houses gleam in the strong sunshine, the two rivers glint, and
sounds of bells rise from the belfries that protrude from among
the brown tile roofs. The other way, behind the ridge, lies the
Vale of Yumuri, a bowl among tawny hills, floored with the fresh
green of sugar cane and dotted with gray-boled palms.
Nor is the ridge top one of those usual hills in the tropics,
where you arrive in a flood of perspiration only to find the view
concealed by the bushes. Its grass is as smooth as the casino's billiard
tables down in the city, and on the benches well-pruned laurel
trees cast their shade. It would be hard to imagine a more pleasing
site for an English lesson, which was what it was used for on the
day of my visit.
On the way up I had had a Spanish lesson of a kind. Down the
road toward me whistled a car containing a young islander and
his girl; and since their speed was such that the next hairpin bend
could not be negotiated, they shot through a barbed-wire fence
instead and smash-bang on into the brambles. Why they did not
go off one of the several near-by cliffs I cannot say. No, these
sweethearts of the Jazz Age lit right side up, the girl leaning
back in a nerveless style and the boy springing out instantly to
give the radiator several smart and angry slaps. What he told his
car while it cowered there on the hillside was intended to teach
it never to do such a thing again.
Having noted the idioms employed and that nobody was killed
or injured, I plodded on shrineward and heavenward and soon
was giving the English lesson of which I have already spoken.
My student was a Cuban with his coat over one arm and his
MANY A GREEN ISLE 54
straw hat on the back of his hea'd. He was a mathematician by
intention but a rural school teacher temporarily, for the reason
that all schools of higher (or even high school) learning on the
island had been closed for several years. Before he could go on
with his calculus and theory of real numbers he was having to
mark time like so many others of his stalled generation.
But marking time is impossible for some people. This chap,
while Havana University stood locked up to humble its political
pride, would toil up to the Monserrate when his school was out
and occasionally find sight-seeing Americans who were willing
to help him with his English. Perhaps a catch-as-catch-can edu-
cation has a special virtue in it: certainly my student showed a
zeal I do not remember in the classrooms of my own college days.
Not to be outdone in ardor, I gave him what help I could,
perched there above some of earth's most celebrated landscapes.
With soul recently seared by the Havana Spanish lessons, I was in
a mood to teach. Oh, the bliss of being on top again! Nor was I
anything but patient, admiring, and distinct of utterance. The
recent date of rny tutoring also saw to that There was not a
moment's relaxation until the sun was ready to set, at which time
we arose and, dusting off the seats of our pants, trudged down
into the sloping streets of the city.
But even on such laborious occasions as this, in Cuba, I would
sometimes think with discouragement how remote is the pos-
sibility of achieving mutual understanding when not only terms
are dissimilar but the things they represent. Even such a quite
simple word as "door" can bring different images to people of
Certainly an American in Cuba soon observes that the house
doors are of an unfamiliar bigness. When a Cuban dies, it would
seem that he doesn't want his pallbearers to bark their knuckles
on the way out; in fact the door is built large enough to admit
a hearse. Its two huge leaves, studded with iron stars, are seldom
55 ENGLISH LESSONS IN CUBA
unclosed. Doors cut within these doors do for the comings
and goings of every day. To bid one open, you thump a knocker
cast in the form of a dangling hand with a ball in its fingers, and
then step through, A bridal party enters or the trash is fetched
out, all at this same portal: it is front door, back door, and often
garage door too; and when a Cuban tot learns the word, this is
the formidable institution it henceforth will bring to mind.
Through such a door my grateful student ushered his teacher;
and as he turned the key he made a beautiful little speech, put-
ting the premises unconditionally at my disposal Here was my
It seemed delightful to acquire a house with a patio in it full
of roses in return for an afternoon of amateur pedagogy. I looked
about with real interest. But again terms were misleading. My
Matanzas home was not a "house" in the Minnesota sense. Rather,
it was a series of cool masonry caves arching loftily one into the
other, all facing the gay small garden, paved with glistening tile,
and with a spiral staircase corkscrewing its way through the dining
room ceiling into my host's wizardlike study above.
These arrangements I liked immediately, and also my host's
mother, a merry, gray, wrenlike lady. The cook, too, pleased.
She was a graceful colored girl with gold hoops in her ears, to
whom it was a rapture to hear the young master conversing in
the foreign gibberish.
We had coffee in the patio, and I was shown a letter from
another American who had given this student a boost toward
better English. "She says she has been visiting some shut-ins," he
pointed out, adding, "People in jail, I presume?"
I elucidated. It was an expression a Cuban might readily mis-
translate. "Now we shall have a Spanish lesson!" he cried, fresh
as a daisy, and asked in his own language what I had enjoyed
most during my stay in Cuba.
After the question had been repeated a couple of times I caught
MANY A GREEN ISLE 56
it, and for want of another inspiration, though not without some
honesty, replied, "The cup custards," which he thought very
whimsical. I had not yet got into Santa Clara or Camagiiey prov-
inces to see the riding there or I might have said that. But that,
too, he probably would have found droll. Unlike help in English,
a new gift counted as a blessing, the old gifts of good custards or
of effortless riding are things the Cubans take for granted.
Traveling down to the south coast a few days later to Santfsima
Trinidad, I resolved to give more English lessons* But there was
no ring of purpose in this. I was being facetious to avoid being
anxious. Going down to that neglected city, cut off even from the
Cuban world by its own jealous range of mountains, was like
throwing myself out of an upstairs window: I hoped to land in
comfort but there was a good chance I might not. How primitive
a place should I find? And how difficult, with my scanty Spanish,
was it going to be to settle myself in it?
For these times of dread Fate saves some of her plcasantest sur-
prises- Not only did I give English lessons in Trinidad, but these
57 ENGLISH LESSONS IN CUBA
led on to musical parties at which my soulful senoritas and their
English teacher, with bosoms aheave and refreshments after-
ward, swapped Bach and Albeniz, Handel and Lecuona pieces on
a stately piano whose keyboard the climate had so browned that
it looked like a long slab of gingercake, entirely without the usual
landmarks of black and white. When during one of these soirees,
I looked around me at the patio with the thick old pear tree in it
and the chaperoning aunts more agog than anybody over the fun
we were having, it seemed like one of the occasions I was plan-
ning for my own island's high jinks.
Even the ride in to Trinidad proved memorable. Though I had
not realized it until I began working my way from city to city
down Cuba's long backbone, the island is an oceanic extension of
Texas, with palms. For the most part it is level excellent farm
land. Such landscapes I much enjoy. But in time a traveler craves
novelty, and thus when we turned from the rolling plains of
Santa Clara into the Trinidad mountains my half-shut eyes popped
wide awake, to peer into the valleys through which the train came
By the time we had reached Yznaga the valleys had broadened:
here were both kinds of Cuban beauty, untamed mountain and
fruitful plain. On a knoll in the village an antique tower, of
seven tiers of arches, mysteriously beetled; another way, under
the horizontal boughs of enormous trees, was a white-walled, tile-
roofed, spread-out ranch headquarters. Ox teams strained down
the converging roads and horsemen came riding in, in Wild West
whirls of dust sombreros curling, square-tailed pleated shirts
worn outside the riding breeches, machetes dangling in leather
scabbards, and boots stitched in florid patterns, well equipped
with spurs. At Yznaga I saw Cuban horsemanship at its most
Trinidad came soon after, at dusk. Against the darkening hill
of La Vigf a there was a sudden glimpse of church gables and pink
MANY A GREEN ISLE 58
campaniles; then with a jolt the train stopped in what in Spanish
days had been the barracks. And very soon, as if dropped into
the middle of a comic-opera performance, I was dining at the
Canada on eggs rancher a with a glass of claret and cracked ice in
the old-time Caribbean style.
Meals at the Canada were always theatrical. But was I an on-
looker or an actor? The front of the establishment rolled up like
a roll-top desk, and what went on in the street was certainly
amusing. There were the horsemen clattering over the cobbles,
princely and debonair; also droop-necked pack trains, donkeys
and their tattered drivers, or an oxcart drawn up to unload the
crooked wood that sent such a smoke from our kitchen into the
grimy patio. Beggars and vendors of lottery tickets leaned in to
chant their chorus of needs and numbers, while the band played
in the plaza opposite and the townspeople strolled and strolled.
Then again it seemed that the action was indoors and that the
passers-by who always stopped for a look were the audience.
A troop of cowboys, very bashful, would slowly fold their legs
into place at table, awed by the glitter of the metropolis and the
gorgeousness of the tooth-paste advertising that filled the walls.
The traveling men in white suits ironed to look like oilcloth con-
versed in Latin frenzy, pointing quivering fingers in witness to
heaven and strewing the tables and floor copiously with bread
crumbs. Curro, the cross-eyed Andalusian valet, tore in and out
with his shirt-tail flying, while Quico the regular waiter bowed
his way around some party dinner table with a platter of rice and
chicken aglisten with pimento slices.
There was the judge in his solemn blue spectacles, and his plump
and languorous-eyed wife. There was the bootblack who sang
while he snapped his cloths by the door, and Senor Rafael Ber-
gansa, supple-waisted and fashionable, who would make a dash
for the lopsided piano and comb loud* glib, joyful music from it,
pulling recklessly at the lever that made cymbals clash in time
59 ENGLISH LESSONS IN CUBA
with the bass. At his desk sat our proprietor, glasses well down
on nose, pinching the breasts of the chickens brought in for sale
to learn if they were fat, which set the modest hens to thrashing
their wings. And of course here was the American foreigner, eat-
ing a custard and over it helping young Luis de Zayas Font with
My friend Luis was the proprietor's nephew. Some day he will
inherit the business, &nd with this future before him, a city ab-
surdly picturesque about him, and a mountain hinterland well
supplied with picnic dells for a second zone, he wisely wishes to
prepare himself for the amerwanos who may suddenly rush in.
Thanks to his kindness I was soon introduced into salons of neg-
lected old-time Cuban grandeur, and climbed rickety stairs into
several old towers. As well as he could, too, he told me stories of
the place, of misers and fantastic spendthrifts, of miraculous
crosses and pirate crimes. Cortez sailed to the conquest of Mexico
after recruiting in Trinidad what were to prove some of his most
famous aids. The city was founded a century before Jamestown,
and thus has had time to accrete a fund of anecdote.
Thanks to Luis, too, of course, I was launched as an English
teacher with a class of five. On my first morning in town I met
the group's paid instructor, a roly-poly Cuban who was an in-
ventor on the side. He had invented a typewriter ribbon that was
going to be a godsend to the world, and for a specimen of what
it could do he rattled off his name and address: "Medardo Marrero,
On the Post Office, Trinidad." I was much impressed. This was
followed by an invitation to return and meet the class, and so give
the young ladies especially, ha, ha, ha!, a chance to hear the speech
of a real English-speaking man.
To have my facetious resolve so promptly possible of fulfill-
ment was a joke too good to spoil. Ergo, at ten o'clock the session
Imagine the paralysis among the students, brought to this en-
MANY A GREEN ISLE 60
counter without a word of warning. The young ladies were mute,
the young gentlemen could fetch out nothing but blurts, while
Senor Marrero stormed up and down because they refused to
illustrate the proficiency he had claimed to have taught them.
But animal spirits and curiosity soon revived. When the con-
versation, established on the familiar rocks of the pencil, the ink-
well, and the pen, turned to airplane travel, Cuban music, or
Minnesota winters, everybody found something to ask or tell;
the give and take, half Spanish, half English, became almost too
deafeningly animated. Meanwhile the Marrero family, one head
over another like targets at a fair, gazed in through a partly open
inner door; and on the street-door sill a trio of little darky girls
paused to sit and listen.
However, I had not come to Cuba to teach English, really.
That first morning when I took over Senor Marrero's duties I felt
most accommodating. But teaching people who are greedy to
learn and who regard your unexpected descent from nowhere
with almost the astonishment and interest that Columbus roused
in his day, has its fascination. Like playing poker or eating salted
peanuts, it lures a man on.
I found my evenings being given over to preparations for the
morrow to trying to devise exercises that were not merely useful
but marked by some contemporaneity and zip. And in the morn-
ings I found myself brushing the regular teacher aside in a way
that must sometimes have approached the brusque. Poor man!
from noisy participation he passed to blowing smoke rings and
rocking in a rocking chair and then, practically an outcast, to
spending the time next door "on the post office*"
From these lively sessions my path led on into musicales and
mountain drives and I felt very happy. "Now we shall get ready!"
the chauffeur would exclaim jovially after we had been ushered
into the back seat; burrowing under the front, he would fetch
out an old-time hand pump to harden up the tires. The Trinidad
6l ENGLISH LESSONS IN CUBA
streets are paved with cobbles, as we rode over them each of us
looked like twins. But the country roads were smoother, toward
Sancti Spfritus, that hoary villa, or the Rio Cafia with its cascades
Frequent repairs made it necessary to take a mechanic with us.
He was a merry fellow in a plum-colored suit; and though his
straw hat looked neat enough from the front, the back of it had
been eaten away by a goat one day when he was at a funeral
Chico Luis, at the story, fell forward in a helpless fit of laughter.
And so away to the more sophisticated main-line world again,
to Camagiiey and its saddlery shops, Holguin and eggs madrilena,
and to Santiago de Cuba with its narrow streets and broad, solemn
doors. Cuba was too big an island for me to want for mine, but
the memory of it haunts me as sharply as if it had been a little
one: I hear again the loud flute octaves in lamp-lit plazas, while
the strollers gesticulate and gabble their Spanish, and sad-voiced
hawkers come and go. I smell again the good smell of brown
saddle leather and taste the good taste of a Cuban custard.
For Spain's arts still govern in her Antillean last-lost colonies.
The old music, new-blended with the African, still pierces the
heart with its strange monotonies; the old architecture, sprouting
in new forms, brings to the cities an ornate and courtly charm.
Climbing the hill streets of Trinidad or Matanzas the Passion
Week pageantry with its bleeding Saviours, trumpet shrieks, and
lurching forests of lighted candles, rekindles the dark splendor
of Spain's Catholicism in the islands. And new again in Cuba, but
familiar and terrific, the sins and enthusiasms of Spanish politics
break out in jets of aspiring patriotism, and in graft and tyranny.
As for my English lessons, they did not change the island ,
much less in fact than it has been anglicized by American "big
business." Nor did I learn much Spanish while I was at them.
However, they made an alien place homelike for the stranger:
MANY A GREEN ISLE 62
I think affectionately of the big Cuban doors because not a few
of them proved friendly.
Of the schools that gave me the creeps then, with their blind
windows and padlock-gagged entrances, I think kindly too,
though they have been reopened since under the eye of the mili-
tary. Mum in those days, they gave me my chance to talk. When
I left Cuba I left not only pupils but friends behind the lessons
in fact continue by correspondence.
lOT FORGETTING TO WEAR A HAT, I
went to synagogue on Saturday. The cupboard doors were laid
back heavily on their silver hinges, the scrolls of the Law were
revealed, crowned nobly with silver crowns; and the cantor,
dreamy and lost in devotion, filled the solemn old room with
Overhead the brass chandeliers reflected a blue light from the
gallery lunettes in their tier on tier of clustered hurricane glasses.
The floor under foot was sanded with coral dust. And in the stout
old mahogany pews about me sat the merchants of Curasao,
To psalms intoned Sabbath after Sabbath since Bong David's
time there is no longer much necessity to listen, perhaps; however,
I listened, and once in a great while some not wholly unfamiliar
woidshdom, say, for "peace" would dart from the torrent
of sonorous gibberish to lodge in my pleased brain. I refused the
loan of a prayer shawl, but ever after on the narrow streets of
the Punda quarter the city Jews bowed to me when our ways
Sunday, the next day, I went to the state church. It was evening;
the sentries at the tunnel under the palace saluted when the Dutch
officials came gliding into the courtyard in their sleek motorcars;
the church's high steps and high windows were cheerfully alight.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 64
Inside, the pastor climbed to a pulpit pasted like a baroque swal-
lows' nest against the wall. When he called the hymn and we
Dutchmen broke into the substantial harmonies of a Protestant
chorale it was a moment of grandeur.
As for the sermon, I listened to it with all my ears. Dutch looks
a puzzle in print, but spoken earnestly from a pulpit it sounds
much like what it means, or so I was pleased to imagine. Since I
was a male, respectably dressed though an unknown, I was seated
with the petty officials in the box pews at the pastor's left. All
faces, like mine, were upturned in studious attention; all necks,
at our happy task of singing, grew cherry red: the housewifely
bosoms of the ladies in the square center of the room inflated
and deflated in the same religious enterprise.
Only the governor's pew was vacant. After the last amen,
thus, when we came out into the warm gloom again, it was good
to note that one sole window was all that was lighted in the
palace at the extreme end of the building, as if His Excellency
were feeling ashamed of himself. But the sentries saluted the lesser
officialdom very smartly, and ever afterward on Wilhelminaplein
or Queen Emma Bridge these grave bigwigs bowed when we
chanced to meet.
Monday was All Saints' Day so I went to Mass. Whether all
Catholic choirs in Curasao are as angelic as that which sings in
the cathedral in Otrabanda I wish I could report. However, I did
not neglect to wait, that day, to see what these angel voices might
look like in the flesh: down the loft stairs they canie tumbling at
last, clerks and stevedores and taxi drivers colored boys in well-
starched suits of holiday white, all very ready for the holiday fun
now before them. The choirmaster, whom I stole up to see, was
angelic enough. Pillbox cap on head, he sat all alone under the
low arch of the roof, serenely reading his breviary.
The old priest I never saw again, my bowing list was not length-
ened by even one name thanks to that days' churchgoing. For
65 ON SPEAKING PAPIAMENTO
there is nothing exclusive about Catholicism in Curasao. Strange
faces were as much to be expected as familiar ones in that big con-
gregation. This was the people's church, unblushingly popular:
Mass was said in Latin, of course, but the sermon was preached
and notices were read in Papiamento, the island's low-brow ver-
The study of language is one of those hobbies for which I wish
I had more time. Why wasn't I born twins, to let half of me put
in some real licks on philology? But being the one-brained ama-
teur that I am and the repose of the island life being not yet mine
to use, this branch of knowledge finds me shining in it as ineffec-
tually as in all the others. Current usage in my mother tongue, in
fact, often brings me to a nonplus. "English it is a speech very
difficult!" cried one of my senoritas during a lesson in Cuba; to
which heart-cry, with a wink, I could only respond, "We find it
rather hard ourselves."
As for the foreign tongues, I love them, but only as a good
Christian loves his enemies, to wit, with both cheeks smarting.
German was my first try, and well do I remember her parting
slap. The prepositions that govern the dative case I had memorized
so devotedly that I can recite them yet. It was the same with those
governing the accusative. But those very common ones that some-
times govern the one and sometimes the other how could I pre-
dict their effect in any given instance? This it appeared was a
matter of psychic "feel," at which cruel news my heart sank, and
after that I really did not learn much German.
With French my attempt at conquest has been less disastrous.
However, it is like owning a violin that I can't play well, and on
which I am too bashful to practice when anybody is listening
who might help me to improve. What I want is not help but (I
blush to say it) to have my French thought to be a marvel.
In Haiti, in the highland pastures where the quail whistle, black-
berries plumpen, and pines comb the clouds with their shaggy
MANY A GREEN ISLE 66
boughs, I have lain on the grass and grown downright chatty with
the mountain innocents. Jolting with bus passengers on their way
to a funeral in the Martinique hinterland my tongue was loosened,
or with the St. Barts Normans as I shall tell you later. The chil-
dren were best of all on any French-speaking island. For with
these dear friends it was I who was the bilingual wizard: in a
group if I am not to achieve a position of some brilliance I don't
say much. No, where my traveling companions know any Eng-
lish, that is the language we employ. The blunders I leave to these
conceited smarty-pants. If they are so clever, let them do the
My wooing of Spanish has been both more recent and more
dismal. Ah me! "the language of heaven," Charles V called it;
he was a politic Hapsburg. In Puerto Rico I bought El Mundo
every day from some chanting newsboy and usually could tell
well enough whether I was reading about a Rotary luncheon or
the wars in Europe. But there is no greater difference between
such a luncheon and such wars than lies between reading a lan-
guage and using it. That the eye is at home by no means insures
that the ear and tongue are likewise..
Grumpily hunched up in some island caf6 with French or
Spanish being shot off about me like irritating firecrackers, I have
given over yearning for a miracle of understanding and fallen to
dreaming of a language really easy to learn. Why put up with
the hard ones now current?
Primitive tongues, I'm told, such as that still spoken by our
accomplished neighbors, the Eskimos, are the most complex.
The classic tongues that evolved from them, though some im-
provement over Eskimo, were more needlessly elaborate than
those, called "modern," that were evolved in turn during the
Dark Ages. If evolution is to be true to itself, then we ought still
to be on the road toward increased simplicity like the dogs in
67 ON SPEAKING PAPIAMENTO
Martin Armstrong's fable whose goal was to compress language
into the two all-expressive vocables bow and wow.
Yes, the latest linguistic invention to be put to wide use is
English, and though here was a step in the right direction, let
me remind you that its date was not recent. Chaucer by writing
a durable masterpiece in the new medium settled its design over
a century before Columbus's voyage.
Unfortunately, printing was invented soon after: English was
hardened into type before it had had time to achieve homoge-
neous character. To this day it is a sort of succotash, Teutonic
beans and Latin corn. But its grammar, thank heaven, by Chaucer's
time and long before Caxton's had won a simplicity unknown in
its parent languages, as its French parent was simpler than the Latin
In the days of its formation it had to be easy. It was the pidgin
talk of the sluts and bumpkins who needed to make contact
somehow with their Norman overlords. But after it had grown
to be more than a makeshift for simple-wits and even after it had
been dignified by Chaucer's masterpiece, it was ignored by the
schools for three hundred years. The professors' task was to police
the classics. Poor Shakespeare! he had no English dictionary nor
thesaurus to turn to and only one tentative and unreverenced
grammar book. Blundering along, he wrote "those springs, on
chaliced flowers that lies," without causing the lifting of one
While I listened to the Papiamento sermon in Curasao that All
Saints' Day I couldn't understand it, let me admit my mind
MANY A GREEN ISLE 68
wandered off into the reflection that the local blacks, like the
Anglo-Saxons of Norman England, had done the job of develop-
ing a pidgin talk here in modern times. When Sir John Hawkins,
in Queen Elizabeth's good ship the Jesus of Lilbeck, put in at this
port with a cargo of Negroes in 1565, the slave trade was already
an old thing to be sure. But it was in the seventeenth and eight-
eenth centuries that the islands were given their hencef orth-to-be-
black population in incessant traffic from Africa: Ibos, Congos,
Mandingos, and slaves of a dozen other tribes. These newcomers
spoke languages related in construction but "mutually unintel-
ligible," which hindrance to communication the slaveholders ten-
derly preserved: the more unable the slaves were to understand
each other, the less able they were to hatch a large-scale revolt.
But the day came when it was no longer practicable to segre-
gate such groups. When the Ibos began to intermingle with the
Mandingos, whose language prevailed? Neithers. Both used the
language of their masters, of which everybody laborers and
especially house servants had had to learn something. It was
English of a kind in Jamaica, for example; French of a kind in
Haiti; and a kind of Spanish in Curasao, which island, though
Dutch, was the slave mart for the Spanish Main. But it was "bad
Spanish" or "bad French," as English was "bad French" in the
In fact it was baby talk, to use a homely term. The first pre-
occupation was to acquire a vocabulary, as a baby's is; grammar,
when enough words had been learned to link into sentences, was
allowed to follow simple and regular patterns. For the distinguish-
ing badge of good baby talk is its consistency: having learned to
say, "I opened the door," a baby, if he has normal gumption, will
also say, "I shutted the door." Such an error we grownups find
laughable, but it is an inane opinion. The mistake made proves that
the baby is not merely memorizing like a parrot but reasoning like
<5<j ON SPEAKING PAPIAMENTO
Thus, consistency is one of the merits of Papiamento and the
other Creole tongues. In the West Indies of 1700, say, the midday
of slavery, there were twelve Negroes for every white man the
white man's "good" English or "good" French never quite man-
aged to prevail.* It was like a household of twenty-four babies
and only the usual two parents: thanks to mere force of numbers
the babies derived most of their speech habits from one another,
and thus baby talk became the standard.
Creole English is still dismissed as "bad English," though I
imagine a patient study of it would prove it as much simpler than
"good" English, as English is simpler than its forbears. It is a
language without honor. The scholars of the British West Indies
focus their spectacles on other things, on tracing the policies of
dim ex-governors, or refighting white-man naval battles that have
been fought over and over again akeady. The affairs of the huge
majority of the population, that is, the black portion, get scant
However, folk tales in dialect are in print, and collections of
negro proverbs, and very odd the English in them looks. Pig ax
him mumma say, <wha mek him mout long so? runs a Jamaican
fable; Him say, no mine, me pickney; dot someting mek fe me
long so, mek fe you long so too. The old sow (to translate) tells
her inquisitive piglet that what has made her mouth so long, one
day will lengthen his: youth, appalled by the deformities of age,
receives no comfort from the elder generation.
Even so short a sample of Creole English puts the amateur
philologist in me in a twitter. I note the Negro tendency to sup-
press the letters r and th\ the multiple duty done by a few pro-
nouns him does for "his," "her," and "she," as in Papiamento the
ultra-streamlined pronoun e serves for "he," "him," "she," "her,"
and "it" and then with happy gaze I examine the invariability
*In Cuba and Puerto Rico, predominantly white then as now, and to a lesser
degree in mulatto Santo Domingo, "good" Spanish of course survived.
MANY A GREEN ISLE y o
of the verb mek, "to make." Mek it is in the present tense where
we should say "makes"; mek in the past where we should say
"made"; and in the future, where we should say "will make," it
is mek again, as neat as a button.* Oh! the luxury of it!
In the French islands, and in places once French, such as Haiti,
St. Lucia, or the Apperly brothers' Dominica, Creole French is
the people's language. Unlike Creole English, it is taken seriously.
Not only have its proverbs and country songs been collected, but
philologists have wrinkled their foreheads studying its structure,
and poets of the high-brow school have woven verses in it. Its tnfs
raccourcis and langueurs imagees are the admiration of Paris
esthetes; and the disarming directness of a language that trans-
lates "jockstrap" as djac-papa, and "brassiere" as djac-mamm,
ruffles the august whiskers of the Academy in a gale of young-
However, it is not properly a written language. The poets and
scholars who use or study it, transcribe it in as many various spell-
ings, and very formidable some of their systems are. But the
people who habitually speak Creole do not write it; no standard
orthography has been hammered out by the multitude. If you
want to know its character, you still must go to the islands and
listen. Faut ous dormir cdte Jean pour connain ronfier Jean, as
the Haitians say: "You have to sleep with Jack to appreciate his
If you want to appreciate Papiamento, on the other hand, you
can exchange letters with a friend in Curagao, or subscribe for
La Cruz, prijs: cinco florin pa anja paga padlanti.^ This paper
will perhaps not have much world news in it, but it displays in
humdrum print, week by week, a Spanish that would make old
Charles V drop back in astonishment.
New World Spanish, of course, nowhere is given the standard
Castilian pronunciation; that of Santo Domingo, my linguist uncle
""Auxiliaries for expressing time are, however, a feature of the Creole tongues*
Will has been omitted here because of the sententious fable style.
tThis looks to me like, "Price: five florins per year, paid m advance."
yi ON SPEAKING PAPIAMENTO
tells me, differs most from the classic model. But as written Span-
ish it is very much all cut from the same piece of cloth that is,
except Papiamento. For Papiamento is the Creole Spanish in-
vented by the old slaves of Curaao for their own use; and while
they were at their job of simplification they did not hesitate to
weave in ragtags of the Dutch vocabulary, and French, and Portu-
guese, and English, as these came to hand.
The chief elements of Papiamento are Spanish, however, with
the Dutch second in importance. It is a natural combination, since
this mart of the Spanish Main has been so long held by the Nether-
landers. In more than language, in fact, Curaao shows its double
When the boys gather at night on the benches of Brionplein
to play their cuatros and guitars and tip back their hats when the
girls stroll by, the waltz songs they sing are Spanish, but Dutch
too by an unexpected blending. It is as if Spanish music were
being played by a German band: the rhythms become more banal,
the tunes more buxom. And very sweet they are: the lights
twinkle on the harbor waters where Queen Emma Bridge, on its
pontoons, rides tranquilly; the policeman, with the orange of
Orange-Nassau at his collar and sleeve cuffs, stands in the bridge-
head limelight like a band leader directing traffic; while the music,
every note comfortably familiar though the tunes may be new,
winds its way skyward with the % Spanish rustle of stringed instru-
Curasao's architecture is Dutch more singleheartedly. The yel-
low gables with their white-painted scrolls and baroque parapets
that hang mirrored in the calm-flowing Rif Water, the steep tile
roofs and chunky dormers, are straight from Delft or Dordrecht
despite the rainless, never wintry skies that burn above them.
Marketing is done Dutch style from sloops tied to the quays
that lead in to Waaigat yacht basin; but it is not mevrouw in a
white cap who does the buying, it is senora in a black mantilla.
MANY A GREEN ISLE j 2
The huckster-sailors with whom she haggles are not Dutchmen
either; above their unshaven Venezolano faces the brims of their
sombreros swoop in fine bandit curves; they have sailed over
from the less desert mainland with their fruit-stall and green-
grocer cargoes. Very animated is the discussion of the price of
tomati, omac&ti) and bananas, as the masts lazily nod and the green
water gurgles between quay masonry and hull.
But if Papiamento is a language so standard and habitual in
Cura?ao that not only is it used in the market place, but in the
cathedral pulpit, in printed newspapers, and official traffic signs,
it is lucky enough, as English was in Shakespeare's day, yet to be
unpoliced by pedants. Likewise Creole French, though it is ad-
mired by the knowing, and Creole English, though its proverbs
have been collected, are free too of the textbook blight* They
have still the freshness of a bird's song or a green lizard's twitter.
Whether Papiamento or some other actually "modern'' lan-
guage is the speech of the future I cannot say, nor whether any
of our current school of dictators could be persuaded to force its
blessings on a reluctant world. Napoleon, with the momentum of
the French Revolution behind him, outlawed the dear old irra-
tional coinage and weights and measures of his country, and gave
most of Europe a taste of that Utopian professors' dream, the
decimal-and-metric system. With all the governmental bossing we
have now, is there no agency to cow us into trying Esperanto?
No, it will have to be the language itself, I fear, that overmasters
73 ON SPEAKING PAPIAMENTO
us with its obvious goodness. Meanwhile, here lies Curagao, swim-
ming in sunshine, for a sort of laboratory in which such a modern
tongue is being tested and tinkered with daily for us, in a free,
popular, and large-scale experiment.
There may be some who will grumble to learn that this great
intellectual work is being done by niggers. However, and though
we whites show to advantage usually in some other respects, no
less tart a critic of them than Hans Coudenhove (a German) has
declared that "Negroes are the greatest linguists on earth." The
secret is that language is primarily vocal, and these island blacks,
even though they can write it, do not polish their Papiamento in
that secondary form. Print records the progress of their experi-
ment year by year and there its function ends.
As a writer I should shun no serpent more fearfully than this
exalting of the spoken over the written word. Nor should the
tombstone man breathe anything to belittle inscriptions carved
in everlasting granite. But if language, for me, were as purely a
vocal thing as it is for these West Indians, instead of print and
epitaphs, I might be as ready a linguist as one of them. In their
islands, my predicament was like that of the white American
officers who commanded Negro troops in France during the first
World War: while their privates caught a knowledge of French
from mid-air, as if it were a baseball, they dug fruitlessly for it in
French Made Easy.
Yes, that too intelligent process of hearing with the eyes is only
too tediously familiar. The foreign words that hurtle upon me in
real life, to be accepted by my brain must register first in writing,
as if I were a hotel Book before me I learned my French, and
book-learned shall I die. Meanwhile your poor laborer in Tortola
or Carriacou turns lightly from English to Spanish to Creole
French: a voyage in a sloop has been his education, or a year in
Venezuela. Learning a language with his ears has cut the difficulty
MANY A GREEN ISLE 74
Thus, if language at bottom is these peasants' talking and hear-
ing, rather than our (nevertheless delightful) reading and writing,
perhaps they are better equipped to build the language of the
new day than we. While making it simple, they very likely will
know also how to make it popular. Thus far the paper languages
have not shown much vitality outside the libraries in which they
were born: there is nothing harder than to induce the world to
be merely rational, as the professors who invented Esperanto long-
since despairingly admitted. We want the human touch.
Since life on my own island will follow the ideal pattern, the
most spritely of current languages will be current there. I shall
go on reading dear old English, even if it is succotash, and writing
it too no doubt. But a more perfect enterprise also will be afoot.
Very promptly I shall establish a Chair of Papiamento.
Already this feature of the island's educational system has been
planned; I see it now, a flat rock in the middle of a stream. Better,
I feel its deep moss yield beneath me. All around, lying on their
bellies with the water pouring over them, or bouncing on the low
boughs of a mango tree, are my teachers, the island children.
There is plenty of laughter at my bungling first efforts to be
talkative; but one small schoolmarm, when I am genuinely stuck,
is sure to climb up on the rock beside me, her hair drawn into
tight knots on her solemn head, and her brown skin glistening
with water drops.
What she whispers in my ear are lessons never forgot. And
after class, with mind still frolicsome, I hope to pick up the lingo
of the birds and lizards; silence too, I must not omit to cultivate.
The brook fish will be there to help me in that final enterprise,
poised motionless in the shadow of the rock.
GRACE AT SEA
WITHOUT SOME RAPTUROUS
anxiety on the part of her one passenger, the Alice Mable worked
her way between the breakers on Steventon bar and was at sea
The sun rose, the clouds turned salmon color with a wisp of
rainbow risen up among them, the billows toppled, and Cook,
hovering near, was obviously obsessed with thoughts of breakfast.
"Can't set the table, eh, Cook?" said the captain.
"No, sir," said Cook, glad to be noticed. "Too rough."
"Well, bring your things back here," said the captain. "Put
the dishes in a pan, and put the pan on the floor as low as you can
get it, and let the chief know that breakfast is ready."
The ham and hominy soon appeared, the coffee cups, the
big black pot and the little strainer; the chief, too, with his hair
brushed down in morning neatness. And while the world dropped
from under us, or boosted us sky-high, or reeled dizzily about
our heads, the captain on one knee said grace and we ate.
Grace was the regular .thing on that Bahamian mail boat.
Usually the captain said it, but sometimes he would ask the chief,
a young man, to bless the table. They both know how two
Abac6 men, from Hope Town, which is a seafaring and God-
fearing place. Thus, though the Alice Mable had neither style,
comfort, nor speed, she could not be said to be graceless. One
of the things I liked best about her (and before the trip was
MANY A GREEN ISLE j(
done I was truly attached to her) was this homelike grace saying
But there are graces and graces. On the return voyage we h .1
two Anglican priests aboard, going to Nassau synod: they said
it for us, crossing themselves, and rattling off the formula with
practiced dispatch. It was very nice to have the hominy blessed
by professionals, I suppose, but the Lord (if He is anything like
me) must have wished with a sigh for something fresher. The
captain's grace was what I liked; it gave the food more sweetness
and in an unexpected way linked up the humdrum mail trip of
the Alice Mable with the first marine doings in the Bahamas.
Columbus was a prayerful man though only an amateur of-
ficially. On his second voyage he had the Benedictine, Father
Buyl, to give professional weight to the devotions; but on the
first when God's help must have been more passionately wanted
it was mariners' prayers that were sung night and morning. When
from the New World's first blue anchorages the Salve Regina
joyfully was raised, plain sailors were the "exiled children of
Eve" who raised it: for all the twang of their rough husky voices,
the islanders listening on the shore thought they heard music
made by men from heaven.
Where the anchorages were, that idyllic first week in the
Bahamas, is not exactly known, at least not by me. The settled
opinion is, however, that Columbus's landfall was San Salvador,
the outmost though not the eastmost of the islands. From that
first landing place he departed southward in a zigzag course that
led away through the Crooked Island Passage.
His journal of these zigzags, hurrying in excitement from island
to island, is not easy to follow on a chart; but Captain Becher of
the Royal Navy, puzzling over the problem three centuries and
a half later, decided that one zig took him into Exuma Sound* At
Exuma Harbor, it was, Becher decided, that the fleet first took
on water in quantity after the long voyage the islanders, naked
and good-natured, helping to roll the barrels*
should like to think this a true guess, though more recent
ographers do not cheer me much in the enterprise. With its
cays, white bluff, and wind-bent trees, it looks a fit setting for
history. Here too, to come to our own unmomentous story, the
Alice Mable dropped her anchor, the townspeople proved
friendly, and sailors' grace ushered in the supper.
True enough, I also saw Long Island, where it is sure Columbus
touched. Our outmost stopping place was Simms, on that island,
a country road at the plain's sea edge, with a few hip-roofed
houses and solemn shut-up churches scattered along it, and trees
and cornfields planted in the porous rock. With its long shore,
endless road, and distant long low hills, it seemed not the scene
of history but of a quiescent datelessness.
Its role, in fact, as the captain remarked while we were bring-
ing in the mail, is astronomical rather than earthly. It lies precisely
on the Tropic: when the Sun comes to Simms and can look down
Mrs. Simms's well he turns south again and goes back to the
We too turned back there, with the settlement's two weeks'
accumulation of mail aboard. The wind and the High Church
clerics were with us now, we came back to Nassau flying. But
the struggling journey out suited me better. It had more of the
sea and the islands in it, thanks to its day difficulties, peaceful
night anchorages, and its slowness.
As far as Steventon I had had a fellow passenger. He was a
Simms of Simms, a mechanic going back to that place from Nassau
to make a proposal of marriage to his girl.
Simms was a real Conch or islander, who didn't feel comfortable
with his shoes laced. His broad silver-palm hat turned up in
MANY A GREEN ISLE 78
front when he looked into the wind, and when he looked off to
sea a slow satisfaction came into his face because boats and blue
brine had been so much a part of his life from its beginning. But
his opinion of the Alice Mable will not bear repeating here. In
the billows of Exuma Sound she made two miles an hour, which
was worse than standing still to a man with a proposal pent up
in his bosom.
True, the delay was of some use to him. He gargled or sucked
lozenges to sweeten his voice. Thanks to a current fit of hoarse-
ness his most frivolous remark sounded like the croak of an
oracle at the bottom of a cave, and he felt this should be cured
for the good of the business in hand.
But at Steventon his patience blew up. Spitting out a curse
together with the last lozenge, he took his bicycle ashore and
rode over hill and dale to our next stop to get the Old Nick out
of his legs. It was night, but moonlight, and he reached George
Town sixteen hours before we did, in spite of the gates to open
and cows to shy rocks at that cumbered the limestone road.
His hoarseness was no better when we met again, but he was
improved in meekness. Besides, he had been given a bag of fine
tomatoes by a farmer, and another of bananas, which cheered
him. I, too, in George Town, was befriended by a lively colored
man who loaded a small boy with okra, guavas, papayas, and
green lettuce, and sent him with the stranger to the wharf. The
captain had picked up two loaves of bread, fresh-baked by the
constable's wife. We dined well at anchor that night; there was
something besides hominy to say grace over.
And afterward, when the moon was up again, hustling through
the whiffy white clouds that drove across the sky, and the glassy
water rustled under our black hull, Simms soothed his throat
with tangerine juice, sugar, and rum, in which medication the
chief and I willingly shared. The captain, a teetotaler, sat with
us, smoking a cigar, spinning yarns of hurricanes-*- the tough Alice
79 GRACE AT SEA
Mable had weathered several and cracking Bible jokes. Though
it was an agony to his gullet, these jests set Simms to laughing.
"Cap'n Carey," he would wheeze, kicking his heels joyfully
against the wheelbox, "you're the jokiest old fellow Tse knowed in
all my days!"
In fact we were much at home there, anchored out of the
wind. My companions, all Conchs of old families, knew these cays
and bright blue channels like the pockets of a long-worn pair
of pants. Ashore in the settlements they greeted everybody, black
and white. Simms was always hailing relatives. When the captain
set up his parasol on wharf or beach to distribute parcels, it was
like the home-coming of a benign potentate.
In Exuma Harbor I too had a homelike feeling, stranger though
I was. Simms's tangerine toddy was responsible in part, perhaps,
but more lasting in its comfort was the knowledge that I had
well-wishers ashore. Recollection rose in my brain of my colored
benefactor's garden, and of his whitewashed house, set in a pink
ring of shells. To put me at ease, while he went off for the papayas,
his sister who had lived in the lighthouse on Cay Lobos told me
of happenings in that still less visited place: how her small niece
and nephew wheeled their red toy wheelbarrows on the sand,
and "The music on the radio so sweet, very oftentimes we all
get to dancin'." From her report of it, the remote island life could
very well be merry, I judged. But she was a merry girl herself,
with a clear tuneful voice; the grace of her gestures and the bright
way her pigtails wagged made everything she said seem pretty.
But old Columbus, anchored off that shore with his sailors fast
asleep around him after their prayers, must have peered out at
its lightlessness with troubled eyes. He had found the Bahamas
beautiful to be sure. Almost any land would have looked good
after the anxieties of the voyage. Moreover, he was a Mediter-
ranean, used to the rocky, not really verdant shores of the classic
sea. If the English sailor or Irishman in his crews had written
GREEN ISLE 80
the journal, its entries might not have given these limestone cays
the name of so green a paradise: to the Northerner their greenery
is olive and silver for the most part. The parrots and flamingos,
however, were the admiration of all. The people, the brown
islanders, for innocence, gentleness, and good nature, were beyond
But he had embarked not to find Arcady, but the Orient. He
had a letter to deliver to the Great Khan! Besides, he was man
of the world enough to know that descriptions of a bird life and
society more charming than its own would not satisfy Spain. The
riches of the heathen were what he had come for, to reward his
backers, and (his own share, this was to be) to finance a new
Crusade to deliver Jerusalem from the Turks. He had spent the
best years of his life plaguing the courts of Europe to send him
on this voyage; now here he was with gout beginning to cripple
his joints, and found the people naked. They swam to the ships
with balls of cotton to barter; it was their sole commodity. How
many such balls would it take to rescue the Holy City?
Columbus wasted no ink on the foolish computation, but with
morning sang morning prayers with his crews and sailed away
for Cuba, of which island he had begun to hear. It was the last
the Bahamas saw of their first, greatest, and not least Christian
Navigation, however, is the Bahamas' chief art to this day.
Their vast web of reefy waters has been sailed by Christians of
8l GRACE ATSBA
various kinds ever since the discovery, including both pirates
and good souls like Captain Carey.
The pirates' Christianity, to be sure, tended somewhat away
from their faith's basic precepts. But habits of piety did persist in
many of their lives, or even quite unmistakable religious glimmers.
That any of them said grace habitually over their stolen pork I
am not ready now to prove, but it is a probability. These hard
men had their decorums.
Ned Low, for one, and the meanest of the lot, was a strict
Sabbatarian. His London childhood had been passed in wig
snatching: he rode in a lidded basket on his brother's back, and
into the basket he would twitch a good wig when it came within
his reach. From wig snatching to piracy was a natural step; but no
matter which he was doing he kept the Sabbath, and his ships'
crews did likewise, playing selected games and "reading good
Another Sabbath keeper was the magnificent Captain Roberts.
Wearing a cross of diamonds on his bosom and drinking no liquor
stronger than tea, he devastated Barbados's and Jamaica's shipping.
Gambling, brawls, and women aboard, alike were prohibited by
this moral man; on Sundays "the music" could not touch their
instruments. "And may the Lord prosper your handy-works!" he
exclaimed earnestly, after instructing some disciples in the fine
points of the profession.
On the vessels captained by Misson and Caraccioli, a code pre-
vailed that would do credit to a Baptist Home. Swearing was an
intolerable offense; lectures on ethics and the good life were a
part of daily routine. Even the terrible Morgan sailed in a ship
called the Good Samaritan. And who can forget the piety of
Captain Daniel, who kidnapped the priest of the Saintes to say
Mass on his vessel, and shot one of his own men during the Eleva-
tion because he had omitted to kneel? The service which had
opened with a salvo of gunfire ended with the splash of the dead
MANY A GREEN ISLE 82
body in the sea. It was an occasion that must have made the
good priest sweat.
My friend Father Marcian agreed in the surmise. New in the
tropics, he was finding perspiration only too automatic. For the
Benedictines of the Bahamas, these days Buyl's more evangelical
successors come from my own chilblainy Minnesota. Years ago,
the tale is, there was a shipwreck on a Bahamian reef, on which
occasion with impetuous spirit down knelt a monk aboard, and
vowed that his abbey would take the Church's affairs in these
islands in its care if all were saved. All were, miraculously. Thus,
and to their great surprise, the Fathers of my own countryside
found themselves reestablishing Catholicism where Columbus
had devoutly planted his green cross on the earliest day of New
World annals. Before setting off on the perspirational venture,
the first of the new missionaries read his first Mass in Cold
Spring, my own village, and Father Marcian had done the same.
"This business has its funny side!" he crowed, and told how a
black Andros congregation, blessed with a box of donated cloth-
ing, had appeared at church next Sunday, every man jack and
woman jill in a lace-edged corset. That was what the Lord had
sent, with a New York mission society as His intermediary. It
made Father Marcian chuckle.
Divine jokes, however, were not the whole of the story; he had
been more than a mite homesick, I suspect. Cold Spring was
what he craved to talk about on our afternoon's drive out of
Nassau. The sea beneath Clifton Bluff shone like a spread-out
gorgeous peacock's tail what a pulpit from which to preach the
radiant Gospel! Home gossip, however, I was abundantly able
to provide. We gave over talking of mission mishaps and the
buccaneers' piety and settled gratefully on Main Street*
But the buccaneering itself that had preyed on the Spanish
treasure fleets of the seventeenth century had been a pious enter-
prise in a sense. It was the last long unofficial battle of the old
83 GRACE AT SEA
Wars of Religion. As a rule, the buccaneers were British, Dutch,
or Huguenot. "The Lutherans," they were called in Spain, where
news of their impudent successes made many a grandee tear his
Tortuga, "the Turtle," was the chief center from which these
becutlassed zealots sailed to give the Papists some intercourse with
virtue an island oil Haiti's rich north coast. After I had left
Nassau I came by Tortuga and saw its dark silhouette, the wind
flapping my pajamas in the middle of the night. From the ship's
galley came a whiff of bread fresh from the oven; on shore, at
the same instant, one feeble light blinked awake. Good heavens!
and what tumults of torch-lit feasting the island had seen in its
lurid prime! and how my bare feet would have arched in anxiety,
then, on the lonely deck at so careless an approach to the den
Paralysis had seized on Spanish shipping, sure enough, thanks
to Tortuga's Lutherans. The fleets dreaded to move. But when
wealth piled up in the ports of Mexico and the Spanish Main,
the buccaneers turned filibuster, amphibious like our Marines, and
took fortresses and cities, ravaging their warehouses and treas-
uries. And their churches; they never omitted to tweak the Pope's
nose when they came across a richly furnished altar. As good
Protestants they knew both the sinfulness of silver images and
their value when melted down.
But the simplicity of this Protestant-Catholic contest, never
perfect, grew more and more obscure. Could a just God intend
profits like these to be reserved for Lutherans? When Michel-
the-Basque sacked Maracaibo in the orthodox days of Louis XIV
and made off with the altar vessels, he assured the priests and nuns
that "this part of the booty would serve for the building of a
splendid church at Turtle Island, to Our Lady of Victories." He
spoke as one Catholic to another, please note; Tortuga was blessed
MANY A GREEN ISLE 84
now with a return to the Roman faith. It was good news of a
kind for his distracted victims.
When such confusion of buccaneering aims came in, the classic
age was over. Mere sea robbery was on the way. The last chapter
came when the Spanish colonials themselves turned pirate, and
dodged about Cuban waters on mean and niggling forays.
Meanwhile the Bahamas shared in the excitement in all its
phases. Flanking the Straits of Florida and the Windward Passage,
their maze of channels, cays, and reefs was as if made for a sea
New Providence was the rendezvous. In Nassau those bad
female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read brazened the wharves,
and Teach lurched and leered, twisting the braids of his blue-
black whiskers between fingers hardly less serpentine. The place
was a scandal. Worse, it became a bother* Its scallawag citizens
upset British trade with the more productive colonies.
For this reason, in 1718, Woodes Rogers was sent out as gov-
ernor. The pirates knew their man, he had been a buccaneer
himself. Two hundred of them obsequiously received his pardon,
but enough skulkers were hung to give discipline to the new
regime. Eight in one day were strung up, chanting psalms while
waiting for the hangman.
Wrecking now was turned to, to give island talents scope for
their activity. When some vessel or other was cast on the reefs by
act of God, the Bahamians piled into their sloops and went out
to salvage her cargo.
Questioning acts of God is an impiety, but Lloyd's and the
Philadelphia lawyers soon were guilty of just this naughty prac-
tice. Were the Bahamas accursed? Why was their navigation so
85 GRACE AT SEA
fatal to rotten but well-insured old vessels? The more the evidence
was studied, the more likely it appeared that some of these acts
of God had been engineered by islanders made in His image.
Thus, as the mother country had outlawed piracy she now built
lighthouses and ruined wrecking.
But the darkness that had ceased to serve as the excuse for such
fair-weather disasters, regained its value during the twin eras of
blockade-running and rumrunning. The dark of the moon found
the seas liveliest in Civil War and Prohibition times, and cash
freest in happy Nassau. Mainland abnormalities are always that
smart community's bonanzas.
The Banshee ', first steel ship to cross the ocean, was built to run
the Confederate ports' blockade. She made only eight trips be-
tween Nassau and the seaboard before being captured, but even
so her owners realized 700 per cent on their investment. Nor
were they pocketing undue profits: a plain seaman in those
champagne cocktail days earned $250 or more per trip. Such
was the price the South had to pay her friends for uniform but-
tons or pistols trans-shipped from Boston hid in lard.
. Rumrunning brought an even brighter era: it lasted longer.
During the first five years of Prohibition, island imports of wines
and spirits multiplied twenty-five times. It is not officially known
what happened to this flood, but in the breezy cupola of Nassau's
library when I thumbed through the newspapers of the time I
found hints to help me trace its movement. Not in the news, noth-
ing so tactless; instead, from some dignified "ad" out would pop
the footnote, "We also have a well-stocked warehouse at West
End, Grand Bahama." West End is a port you may not have
heard of. Ordinarily its importance is nil. But in rumrunning days
a thousand vessels a year cleared at West End: it was the port
handiest to the mainland.
The actual rumrunners, as it happens, were not Bahamians. The
heirs to the swashbuckling tradition now took the profits with-
out the risks. Their schooners plied no farther than to West End
MANY A GREEN ISLE 86
or served as floating depots from which the crude bootleggers
could pick up their goods. It was the refined climax to a long his-
tory of sea daring.
Did any of those skippers, I wonder, call down God's blessing
on the hominy while ferrying Gilbey's gin to the dark meeting
place? Very likely so, it was a routine errand. It would seem,
however, as if God might find the sentiment poor and wish that
the prayers were torn more heartily from more abandoned sinners.
But God's inscrutability, as Fm sure you will agree, is beyond
my scrutiny. I don't know which kind of sinner He is happier
to hear from, legal bootlegger or rum-soaked pirate. Perhaps He
prefers the bread-and-butter monotony of prayer from such
faithful souls as Columbus or the Alice Mable^s captain; or the sur-
prise vows that mushroom abruptly from the depths of some
Benedictine's shipwreck-quickened soul. Perhaps Simms's curse,
heartfelt and lozenge flavored, tickled the Divine Majesty, or the
rattlety-bang grace said by our two High Church clerics.
This brings me to a thought, to wit, that a military man at a
banquet is not expected to do the manual of arms before he eats,
nor is a banker at a luncheon reverently asked to make a loan. But
if there is a clergyman at table, be it on land or sea, it is thought
necessary to impose professional duties on the fellow. Prayer is
forced on him as it was on the sweating priest of the Saintes it
is Captain Daniel's Mass again, minus the gunfire and the pic-
turesqueness. No, when the clergy dines with me on my own
green isle, another custom shall prevail. A sung blessing with
voices joined will be, I think, the ticket.
But stop! now I perceive a beauty in the grace gabbled by our
Anglicans its resignation. Like me, they'd have preferred the
fresher event of course. I can picture them now with English
faces de-stiffened by surprise, kneeling on the deck that wind-
tossed morning, listening to the Captain's homely phrases. And I
can hear them cry "Amen!" too, as the ship lifts on a high wave.
FROM CALABASH BAY TO
I HERE ARE PEOPLE WHO IN CHURCH
are edified by virtue, and in taverns are horrified by vice. Angels
move at their elbows. But there are others, by devils guided, who
do just the opposite: in church, with wrinkling nose they smell
the worm's sawdust excrement, whereas in taverns they see love-
liness beam about them from the hardest visages. Of the two,
the latter group is the more smug one to my notion it preens
itself so on sensing what lies beneath the skin of things.
In addition there is a small group that smells the worm in either
place small, because its members frequently throw themselves
off bridges. Last of all comes the Sunshine Club to which band
I belong. We are always being edified, whether it is in church or
rumshop, and so give neither angels nor devils any lasting satis-
In general, however, going to church is not thought much
fun. When Sunday comes, a nap on the sun porch appeals to us
as more likely to be stimulating. But very often, when I do go,
some unpretentious preacher laboring among his platitudes will
illumine me with a new flash of truth. The struggle to sing the
bass part in even a not-good hymn is exercise of a worthy kind.
And, very fruitful for the traveler, the business of putting on
MANY A GREEN ISLE 88
best clothes and coming in tune with Higher Things in public
gives him a ready means of joining the life of the places he visits.
In Spain, tourists swarm to bullfights to feel the vitality of the
Spanish people about them, or in Germany they haunt beer gardens
with a like educational end in view. But in the Spanish or German
churches these same citizens who were bellowing awhile back
for blood or beer are "themselves" with equal naturalness. Nor
is the quiet phase any the less worth observation. I never learned
so much so fast about the Gallic spirit as at Quaker meeting, once,
But attending church to snoop is neither fruitful nor polite.
The Holy Rollers do not find me sniggering in a back row: it
would be like going to a bridge club uninvited or to a bullfight
without some taste for gore. No, it is necessary to be inconspicu-
ous and to be touched by the truth of people's enthusiasms, at
least a litde, before their behavior has much meaning to observe.
Its church gives Calabash Bay a special tone but I did not
know this when I was taken by the looks of the place. I saw it
first as I did Gouyave, from the sea in passing, and came back to
try its human quality.
People complain, sometimes, that the West Indies are all alike,
as if the Shakespearean flavor of all of Shakespeare's plays were a
point against them. They make a harmonious family, but different
parts of even one play or island can show striking contrasts. The
Jamaican north coast, for example, is one long bower: in St. Ann's,
where Columbus on his last voyage lay bedridden when his rot-
ting ships could explore no farther, the coconut trees lean out in
89 FROM CALABASH BAY
endless groves, and irrepressible waterfalls pour out from higher
woodlands. Pedro, however, a south-coast district of the same
island, with Calabash Bay one of its fishing villages, tends toward
the arid, a sad, open, savanna country.
Behind Pedro the long ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains
steeps in the sun, a giant sawhorse with dusty patchwork quilt
of fields thrown over it. No St. Ann's sinuous coconut trees line
the grassgrown dunes by the shore; the trees that punctuate the
district are thatch palms stiff as brushes, tough lignum vitaes with
blue stars sown over their dense lumps of foliage, and calabash
trees with fruit swung ponderously at the tips of knob-knuckled
wandy boughs. "Cut me a calabash switch! " command irate Pedro
fathers, which sets the boys to blubbering that they never will
Or Great Pedro Bluff, there, jutting roughly into the blue
Caribbean, is a scratch-patch of cactus, thorns, and briars. After
the spring rains have come down from the hills, such a rush of
blossoming sweeps through it as only a dry-country wilderness
can show. Orchids of grape- jelly red hang in sheaves from the
cactus boles, acacias tumble into a froth of yellow, and the yoke-
wood, in nooks in the Chinese sculpture of the rock, girlishly
shakes out its petticoats of pale-pink frilly flowers.
As for the Pedro people, they were a surprise.
In Jamaica the pattern of country society is set by the planta-
tions, usually. At the center of each is a nucleus of white man-
agement with its servants in a. black ring around it. Around this,
in hundreds of acres of bush and field, the ex-slave populace lives,
its labor bought by the management as needed. The land these
Negroes live on, in villages of paintless shanties, they rent very
cheaply, and also that worked as provision gardens. When they
marry, if "good tenants," the white lady sends a cake. Com-
petent and angelic she descends to lend a hand when the fever
burns. It is a childlike round for the majority, free of possessions
and few but delegated responsibilities. As my uncle the philologist
MANY A GREEN ISLE 90
suggests, Jamaica is what the American South would be if there
had been no Civil War.
Pedro, however, conforms to another pattern. As in not our
South but our Southwest, whose profitless deserts saved it for the
Indians, drought seems to have saved Pedro for its colored people.
There is no white landlord in the district to watch the fields crack
in the too-constant sun.
But though crops may fail three years in a row, there still is
enterprise in the place. The land is held in small plots, each with
its thatched clean cabin of white or pink, around which olean-
ders blossom. As cheerful as the sight of these dwellings when I
came riding down among them, was the news that the people
who lived in them bred some of the island's most mettlesome
horses, and also its beefiest cattle. A St. Ann's loafer can poke
twigs in the moist earth and grow a hedge, but the Pedro graziers,
Abe Lincoln style, split rails and build worm fences. At Calabash
Bay it seemed an old-time, almost a Bible picture, when the black
canoes came flying with thek draughts of fish, white sails bent
energetically to the brine. From beach-top wells of sun-parched
Palestinian masonry the women watched them come, then strode
off single file down the sands, calabash jugs balanced on their
It would be false to say less than that I fell in love with the
Bay people. They were the lovely kind. How had it happened
that so many Scotch mariners had been stranded on this coast,
settled, and left the legacy of Celtic blood? The brown country-
folk and fishermen, with their blue eyes and taffy-colored wool,
bore Scotch names proudly, and were no less proud of their
Scotch code of honesty. They were polite, friendly, and self-
respecting. It was one of those rare communities in the British
islands where the lava of white benevolence had not hardened
down from above, to keep the nonwhites in a proper order.*
* This is no longer wholly true. The coast is being opened to the tourist trade,
which means that the. best shore properties are in part now in alien white hands.
91 FROM CALABASH BAY
No one happened to die while I was staying at Calabash Bay,
which was a cause of regret to everybody: a death in Pedro is not
only the signal for genuine grief but for the district's chief social
doings. When I heard their wakes described "set-ups," the Bay
people call them they reminded me of the wags at home whose
wills request band music at their funerals and direct the pall-
bearers to pass cigars.
In the saddened house the elders sit, swapping anecdotes of the
deceased and singing slow hymns in two-part harmony. Outside,
the children play Simon-Says-Thumbs-Up in the moonlight, un-
less they are grown enough to join the young folks in their more
strenuous revelry. These others the most numerous group by far
play forfeits, ring games, kissing games, and strap games, in
which last uproarious favorites you get a cruel licking if you let
your wits woolgather or your legs rest for an instant.
Then out comes a guitar. Nicholas will thrum, say, and Cecil
sing, staring into the instrument and wagging his head in rhythm
with the long ballads of newspaper love and murder. Or it will
be a humorous ditty with words in it that set the girls to flying
to hide their unladylike guffaws. But Cecil or Tom Parchment,
whose repertory is still more immense, do only the stanzas solo.
In the choruses everybody joins and with bodies as well as voices.
Set-up or no, I heard some of Cecil's songs; and Bertha, when
she made the bed, would repeat them for me until I could put
the melodies on paper.
"If they -feel a pain in their head,
Or a lizard drop on their bed y
The very first thing you are sure to hear
They are going to Father Killam from Vere?
she sang, giving the pillows a practiced wallop.
Tom Parchment I several times visited in his "Glad Lane
Navilty Shop." He was an ex-sailor who had been frozen in, in the
Baltic, once. Once was enough for Tom. With the songs of all
MANY A GREEN ISLE 92
nations filed away in his head, home he came to Pedro to marry
a Bay girl and sell kerosene and notions. It was an event so well
received by the public that the lane he settled on, in a ravine in
a rocky ridge, was renamed Glad Lane for a celebration.
As for the Bay churchgoing, Glad Lane and a pasture path
made my short cut to the meeting house. Settled on a stiff bench,
I would be given a hymn book by Mrs. Parchment or some other
one of the ladies. In a square space at the head of the room sat
the musing Saints; one Sunday a man would preside at their Table,
the next, a woman. For the religion of these people without a
landlord is likewise independent of priest or preacher.
Quaker stillness filled the bare-as-poverty clean room. Every-
body's clothes were of the freshest. Now and again one of the
Saints would start a hymn: a few favorite tunes seemed to fit all
texts. There was no organ. For accompaniment the lambs bleated
out-of-doors and cows mooed, as if it were Bethlehem and these
Plymouth Brethren were the shepherds who had been called in to
be the Lord's first worshipers.
Simeon Reynolds prayed, as did others of the Saints. Old
Mr. James rose, or some other, to expound the Scriptures. Salva-
tion's plan at its simplest was the theme of these remarks invari-
ably, as if the byways of Christianity could not draw them aside
from its central wonder. Steeped all their lives in Bible reading,
the Brethren spoke in the book's phraseology; the old poetry, like
a lily, opened with fresh beauty in the white still room.
At length the Saints would partake of their Communion. A
little loaf of bread would be broken and eaten, the cup would be
passed. And soon after, in chatty home-going groups, we would
disperse, I with a tract that had been pressed earnestly in my
On my first visit I had had a half-crown ready for an offering,
and thought how big it would look among the widows' mites.
93 FROM CALABASH BAY
But the token of vanity was not acceptable. Only the Saints
were privileged to give, I was told gently. With no minister,
organist, nor mixed quartet to hire and no Gothic sanctuary with
a mortgage on it, their church exercises its religion with primi-
Of Calabash Bay I had known nothing before suddenly I went
there. Port-au-Prince, on the other hand, in which city I heard
Mass soon after, I knew well enough in books. But the place I
had read of was as much a discovery as the one unheard-of.
Nobody, certainly, had prepared me to find the Port-au-Princeton
But Swiss it was. From taxicab and then from hotel window
I gawked out upon cuckoo clocks and chalets. Amid the bursts
of tropical greenery were mansions in the taste of Godey's Ladies'
Book, all jig-saw work, half-timber work, broad eaves, and steep-
roofed towers. But this curious fashion, so long shrugged out of
existence at home that we must come to Haiti to reappraise its
merits, mingles its Ladies' Book charm with that of Old Creole
Days. My window was first-rate for leaning purposes; for though
MANY A GREEN ISLE 94
there was no unabashed life of the slums to watch from it, the
mansion next door gave me plenty to admire.
It was in the Haitian chalet style, tall, elegant, and fantastic.
Huge mango trees grew beside it in a yard paved in brick-divided
squares of pebbles. At night I could glimpse a corner of the
dinner table with its soft lights and goblets, but the children's
eating porch was more open to my view. Mangoes loosed from
a high bough by a black maid with well-aimed missiles, I soon
would see laid in a dish on its green tablecloth.
The kitchen below, however, with its arched door and big
tile stove was the room that showed day-round activity. Fasci-
nated, I would watch the cook dispatch a chicken, singe it with
a flaming knot of newspaper, and cut it into an earthen pot. By
and by up would float the Creole savor of it, stewing with
tomatoes, oil, and garlic.
There was another servant to mend and iron. She tilted back
in a straw-bottomed chair and sewed on buttons. Or she would
sweep up one of the little brown daughters for a crushing hug, or
sing Au clair de h lune for the three of them while at her ironing.
Then out would tramp Nurse with soap and towels. Under
the mango trees was a mossy basin with a tap above it, where
one by one the little girls roared in anger as their ears were
looked to. But soon, all suds and with buttocks glistening like
brown butterscotch drops, they were turned loose to rinse them-
selves in a splashy frolic. It was not easy to bring this process to
an end, but when it had been done and the girls' fresh panties had
been snapped up around their middles, the gardener would call
the poodle and soap and rinse her too. He was a peaceable old
codger, who had enjoyed the tableau as much as I had.
Soon after, while the sun set like an apple of fire on the gold
platter of the Gulf of Leogane, these Old Creole Days children
would gather on the porch for supper; the governess would give
one a push and anotjjdr a pull, and presently, grace said, they
95 FROM CALABASH BAY
would cross themselves like birds folding their wings and settle
down to eat.
Or sunset time, if I were in the streets, was like that happy
hour in my old New York days when work was done and I had
unclimbed morning's five long flights of stairs from the drafting
room. These middle-class people trudging home had the same air
of tired well-being that my workaday world had had. Desks were
covered, now ease could be thought of. Were there any tomb-
stone designers in the lot, I wondered, turning in at the gates to
these white cuckoo clocks?
But more a symbol of Haiti was the shoeshine boy on the
curb, bent up to count his day's few centimes. Half-naked, not
for lack of either pants or shirt but because of the rents in both
of these garments, he was as black as if he had shined himself by
mistake. The Black Republic might be run by the white-collar
high-browns I had been watching and the no more black politicos
above them, but it was his country, nevertheless, geared to the
easygoing pace of his class.
"Easygoing," however, is an ill-chosen term. Your West Indian
Negroes are industrious by bursts. If I were their employer and
my wife's next trip to Europe depended on profits earned by
them for me, probably I should calljthem lazy: they interlard
long tasks generously with repose. To the philosophy of the
North such habits seem wicked. Idleness oiany kind in a machine-
dominated world spells rust and loss; wn^as in a hand-labor
world like Haiti's it can be considered beneficial. Men at rest
recuperate their energies.
All day, nevertheless, footing the city's poorer streets, what I
saw was not sloth but break-back endeavor. The porters pushed
and staggered and poured off quarts of perspiration. At the
cabinetmakers' the lathes screamed, driven by large-radius wheels
cranked archaically by hand. In the markets, to be sure, people
were sitting down and some of them were snoring. But these
MANY A GREEN ISLE 96
thousands of women had toiled in on foot, ten, fifteen, perhaps
twenty miles with crushing loads in the baskets on their heads.
The loudest snorer in the lot could hardly be accused of laziness.
But the Port-au-Prince markets, greatest in the Antilles, are
not between-j ourney resting places. Their female Herculeses
come to sell their yams and scallions and to swap news with
the women from other valleys. The hard journey, it is, that is
incidental. On low-bottomed chairs in the wilderness of heaps of
rice, charcoal, salt, flour, basketry, and produce, they jabber and
laugh and haggle with the city hawkers.
As for these last-mentioned acrobats, I found them getting
their exercise on the spot. How could they balance such towers
of casseroles on their heads, or huge trays of mirrors, pins, pink
combs, tinware, soaps, and votive candles? There were urchins
with two dozen each of straw hats piled on their cucumber-
shaped craniums and women with eyes just visible through
heaped-on layers of Mother Hubbards.
At eleven the open air markets fell to the business of cooking
lunch. Crones stirred pots ranged around them like kettledrums
in an orchestra. Fried fish smoked in heaps. Dust blew. Juice-
smeared tots strewed the ground with slippery mango skins.
Turbaned Amazons, lost to the pandemonium, gazed a thousand
miles away, chins on fists.
Noon in Port-au-Prince whoo! what a sun! It felt like a
flatiron dropped on my head. Though the ground was calcined
to ash whiteness and the narrow houses, gray and sinister, swooned
forward in the heat, here was an asbestos-footed boy trying to fly
his kite. Hags in black, their charcoal bags now empty, rode up
the hill on flop-eared donkeys. Life was not baked out of these
streets by any means. At the Calvary the beggars reached out
their tremulous bowls; and troubled girls, shoving petitions under
the hot iron gate for the notice of the Saviour, paced back and
97 FROM CALABASH BAY
forth in the glare of the sun with tapers in their hands one
candle-power each, in that solar incandescence!
But the Lord has eyes for such pale lights I hope. When piety
seems foolish, it is time to remember that our instructions are
to be fools for Him. High Mass in the cathedral was in a less
foolish vein, however, judging by earthly standards. I think espe-
cially of the music.
If there is anything about Protestantism that Catholics envy it
is the congregational singing. Where Protestant churches were
the first to be established in the islands, the Roman church has
had to answer this craving in its converts the black Catholics of
the Bahamas sing hymns galore; "Onward Christian Soldiers" was
the rouser to which the Gouyave Rosary Procession marched.
But the wishes of Pius X, saintly and hopeful, were that all his
children should return to vocal participation in the Roman liturgy
and learn and sing its chants.
His encyclical on that subject has been a tough one to put in
practice. Gregorian music poses subtle difficulties; but it is the
old habit of silent listening (or not listening) that most resists
change. In Port-au-Prince, however, I found the wish beginning
to be fulfilled. At a distance .like eternity in the vast, long, lofty,
pale, glass-glittering cathedral, the priests officiated gorgeously at
the altar, the space behind them filled with seminarians who gave
the music a foundation. Yes, that choir was basic; the organ
played a minor part. For though French Church organists, as a
rule, pull the operatic from their instruments to the very gizzard,
this Haitian, according to the Pope's desire, played shyly. It was
the pale gold of a halo that he traced in behind the singing.
The real singers were the children. I suppose there were three
hundred present. In the choir aisles the girls from the convent
schools were ranged, each group with characteristic shoulder
ribbons. In the nave aisles were the boys, their missals open in
MANY A GREEN ISLE 98
their hands. Antiphonally the two large unloud choirs sang: now
the girls in high-soaring silver arcs, now the boys, more huskily,
in flowing figures like those blown by a slow wind across a field
of grain. Neither group was perfect but both were great in their
simplicity. The seminarians, meanwhile, mature voiced and more
experienced, added the ballast of their cooperation like kindly
Such doings touched and pleased me. In mid-niggerdom the
Pope's civilized dream was beginning to come true. When I looked
about at the starched white clothes of my pew-mates, and the
boys picking their noses and falling innocently to chanting when
their turn came; and especially when I saw how these poor
Christians knelt on the tile after the service, heads to one side
wistfully, and arms wide-stretched to make the sign of the cross
with their whole bodies, praying into the luminous deeps of that
high-vaulted room it was as if I were at Calabash Bay again,
in the presence of religion at its most simplehearted.
Yet that morning's French clergy, filing out to a well-earned
breakfast, must officially regard the Bay's Plymouth Brethren as
no church at all; rather, as just so many poor fishermen deluding
themselves with amateur theology. A curious opinion, in a way,
when from a band of fishermen turned theological on the shores
of Galilee had sprung their own Church's complex structure.
Their full-grown giant oak of liturgy, relics, sainthoods,
bishoprics, sacraments, indulgences, and costly architecture, had
grown out of one such humble acorn of a beginning.
99 FROM CALABASH BAY
For an acorn's-eye view of the Roman tree, all I needed was
to recall the Brethren's distrust of it. Such majestic branching
they regarded as gingerbread and gimcrack, not only foreign to
salvation's plan, but a satanic hindrance to its clear perception.
Yet from the Anglican bough of the hoary veteran, for all its
mistletoe, birds' nests, and fungus, their acorn of Plymouthism
had dropped with the germ of Christianity healthily alive inside
it. It was the old tale again of age sadly finding youth a fool and
youth grimly finding age a fogy.
But such similes lead a tombstone man astray. The Brethren,
as if their church already were grown to treehood, have a few
odd birds nesting in their hair. Bertha's song of Father Killam
the Obea-man was not without significance. Charms are used in
Pedro. Moreover, Pedro "set-ups" all but duplicate the wakes of
Haiti except that the Haitians more exactly know the purpose
of these occasions. As good Catholics the Haitians watch to keep
the Devil off; as good Voodooists they pky cards and forfeits, tell
tales, and sing ballads, because an unhappy spirit brings back
unhappiness to the living, and it is wise, thus, to send him cheerful
to the grave.
And meanwhile, as these wakes imply, the Haitian church is
no ecclesiastical purebred but a double entity two oaks baffingly
intergrafted and with only one of its original acorns Christian.
In the Port-au-Prince streets, often, or the markets, I had seen
people in parti-colored clothing, shirts half red, half white, for
instance. Such garments, or more elaborate patchworks, were for
sale in all the poor folks' shops on the Grande Rue. In the
cathedral none were visible; but, I wondered, were some perhaps
hidden under this starchy show of white tokens of penance
prescribed by the Voodoo priests? For the other seed at the root
of the double tree came from Africa.
All Haitians are Christians and nearly all of them are Cadi-
MANY A GREEN ISLE
olic; but a large part of these Catholics, in turn (the great peasant
class, principally, and my shoeshine boy), are Voodooists to boot.
Thus "holy pictures" serve a larger purpose than the Church
intends. St. Anthony in his vow-of-poverty tatters is confused
with Legba, ragged hobbling god of doors and crossroads. St.
Patrick, thanks to his success with snakes, is identified with
Damballa, the benign serpent god. Kneeling devoutly before the
altar of the Mater Dolorosa, with arms outstretched and face full
of piety, the Haitian may be winging her prayer to Gran' Erzilie,
rich god of the long-dead.
But if Voodoo thus penetrates Catholicism, it is a mutual inter-
penetration. Its own rites and sacrifices are prefaced by the Pater
Noster, Credo, Ave Maria, a long adoration, and longer benedic-
tion. The crucifix on the family altar is venerated as a symbol
superior even to the egg and thunderstone as Christ is to the
other gods. At the ritual dances, drums that have been baptized
with holy water are used, properly to induce frenzy: each drum
has its Christian godfather and godmother. And after the sacri-
ficial animals have been killed, and the gods have been fed, and
the public dancing is ended, the very devotees who have been
most possessed who have burst through the roof thatch, wal-
lowed in the river, or writhed in the agonies brought by Ti Kita
D6membr6, the joint-dislocating god will be at Mass next morn-
ing wholeheartedly worshiping the Saviour.
It seems contradictory and, to non-Haitian Catholics, dreadful
But the Plymouth Brethren would say that if you address prayers
to St. Anthony or the Mater Dolorosa you might as well add
Legba and Gran' Erzilie to the list, all superstitions being on a
par. Or to the true mountain Haitian, luxuriating in the huge
pantheon of his double religion, the Roman half of it for all its
princely pomp and claimed sufficiency must seem as partial, poor,
and narrow, as the Brethren's church does to a right-thinking
101 FROM CALABASH BAY
As for the Old Creole Days little girls next door, in their Ladies'
Book Swiss chalet, probably they will never be touched by any
religion but the one the good nuns explain to them in the Convent
of St. Rose of Lima. Or perhaps they will. At Saut d'Eau, per-
haps, after the throngs have come out from the festal vespers,
and the lamps glitter through the darkening forest by St. John's
holy springs, one of them may abruptly stagger, as the gods use
her voice to prophesy in the dialects of Guinea. To a Haitian,
religious experience can come as a nerve-shattering paroxysm.
But for pure wonder, a possession so terrific is no more won-
derful than the knowledge of truth that changes the soul of some
Calabash Bay fisherman. A word, a brightness in the sky some
such quiet clue is the final one to disclose salvation to him while
he mends his nets. Almost shy, there it is: a truth as small, com-
plete, and easily grasped as a brown acorn laid in his hand. For
the miracle iii these things is that they are living. Whether an oak
is tree or acorn is a secondary matter or whether a church is
Plymouthism with one self-humbled God, full-flowering Ro-
manism with its saints and lovely Virgin, or Voodooism with
pantheon darkly vast.
The great thing, certainly, about religion in the West Indies
(and it will be so, too, believe me, on any island of mine) is, that
it is so much alive. In the Protestant islands it sets people to
quoting Scripture on the streets and to singing hymns for social
fun.. In the Catholic islands it moves people in long processions
and makes them kneel at shrines: I see the boatmen's saints again,
watching on the rocks of the St. Lucian coast, and the Puerto
Ricans, with brass bands and silver banners, worshiping out of
doors on Corpus Christi day. In Haiti it rises up in seraphic chant-
ing and bursts out in the heathen cacophony of drums.
But this thud of baptized drums wakened by sincerely pious
hands who are we to call it heathen? Isaac Watts is a babe of
MANY A GREEN ISLE IO2
hymnody; Gregory the Great lived only yesterday. Drums and
dancing and blood sacrifices pleased Jehovah in the Old Dispensa-
tion. And before that, and before the days of islands, when the
waters covered the earth, it was the cacophony of waves that rose
to the changeless One's greater glory.
DAYS AT BLUE HOLE
CARRIAGE WAITED,. THE POSTMAN
was coming, and thank heaven! he had a letter for me. "Rail-
way station please!" I called to the driver, and tore the letter
Dear Miss Smith, I read, while the carriage-top fringes flipped,
and the driver jangled his chimes; We are delighted to have you
come to Blue Hole. Mr. Hairs, the plantation overseer, will meet
you at the train. Cordially, Amy Taylor.
"Miss Smith! She is expecting a lady!" I moaned, catching nerv-
ously at my bags. So this was the assurance of welcome for which
I had waited! And how, wkh my moustache, was Mr. Hairs to
recognize 'Miss Smith' in a crowd of strangers?
The lights of Montego Bay, at last that night, sparkled below in
the dark; down the hot rails toward them the train came rattling.
Of course the station platform was packed. I knew it would be.
However, "You are Mr. Hairs?" I said to a tall man who didn't
seem to be meeting anyone else, and Mr. Hairs it was.
"Mr. Smith!" cried a friendly lady in the back seat of the car,
welcoming me and the bags. "Amy will be delighted! Women
guests are such a bother. I know, because I have been one myself
for ages. Your hostess has grown quite tired of me. In fact, I have
been ready a week to go home to Cousins Cove; but how could we
part until it had been settled which you were, a man or a woman?
MANY A GREEN ISLE 104
Such an odd name, 'Glanville'; it had us no end puzzled. Row-
land," she called to Mr. Hairs, "don't forget to honk at the gate.
You see," she informed me, "if you turned out to be a man after
all, we arranged to honk two longs and a short. Amy was too busy
to come with us, but wanted a warning, so as to know which
speech to recite as you came up the steps: she of course has had to
prepare two. My own name," she finished, leaning back, "is Hay."
"I suspect I shall like Blue Hole," I told her in heartfelt relief.
For this was my first short visit to the Tropics, now more than a
few years ago, and Jamaica seemed very hot and foreign to the
holiday-keeping tombstone man.
"It's a great place," said Mrs. Hay. "Something always up! New
kittens this morning in Amy's wardrobe. And last Thursday it was
an earthquake. Oh, what a fright we had! Amy and I fell into each
other's arms; but Rowland, who is always so brave, said 'Be calm:
it's the donkeys fallen from the hill to the dining-room roof.' You
got them down, too, didn't you, Rowland," she went on, "even if
one of them did take the gutter with him."
But here was the gate, and a Negro boy springing to open it.
Two longs and a short! Here were the terrace steps between
croton hedges, veranda steps hooded in blossoming jasmine, and
Miss Taylor at the top to greet me. And here, no less grateful to
the tired traveler, was the mosquito net drawn around me and the
bed at last. Pussy had lit, no doubt of it, in catnip. It was like the
arrival in Santfsima Trinidad on my more recent and far rangier
journey one of those otherworldly lucky landings. And though
I was no essayist at this date, industriously absorbing truth and
falsehood, I learned so much at Blue Hole about the agreeable side
of plantation life that I make a chapter of it.
105 DAYS AT BLUE HOLE
The Blue Hole mornings invariably dawned fair and fine. First
visitors were the humming birds, waiting for a touch of the sun to
open new hibiscus flowers outside the windows. Then the tinkling-
grackles would begin to tinkle. And the donkeys would make their
daily experiment, leaning over the fence for a mouthful of bou-
gainvillea blossoms to learn if they still were prickly.
My bedroom opened into a bath, the bath into a fern garden cut
into the hillside, and that garden into the main flower garden at
the side of the house; and since all the doors were always open,
this was the way my friend Scamp came in, the plantation dog.
He was a big white kindly fellow, who every morning brought
me some gift or other, a bit of coral, or a gaudy leaf pulled from
the croton hedge. Pleased as Punch to be remembered, I would lift
the mosquito net to let him in; whereupon he would drop his gift
on my chest, then curl up on the foot of the bed, sigh, roll back
his eyes for a loving look, and sink into a snooze.
Meanwhile the servants were beginning to stir. From the draw-
ing-room into which my bedroom opened, came a noise between
a whistle and a swish, and through the keyhole I spied the cause of
it: Rhoda was polishing the floor with a half coconut husk. After
this process, she perfected the gloss by planting her bare feet on
two cloths and skating methodically to and fro.
At the same time "Lil the butler," as she was called, drew my
bath. Miss Taylor had read somewhere that Americans take cold
morning baths invariably, and a cold bath was what Lil the butler
drew. The water was piped direct from a mountain spring; I
couldn't bear the thought of getting into it.
However, it would never do openly to admit that I was a softy,
unable to enjoy a cold plunge like a true American; for which rea-
son it was my habit to splash awhile with one foot, then pull the
plug, and so let the ice-water shoot out into the garden. To this
day Lil the butler and Rhoda, whose ears no doubt were pressed
MANY A GREEN ISLE 106
in horror to the far side of the palmwood wall, think that I actually
took those baths.
In the tub one day dry at the time I found a lizard, doing his
best to climb the porcelain side. Poor fellow, though he raced his
legs so fast that they were invisible, he still got nowhere. I offered
to help him with a towel, but his response to this was to pop down
More trustful was the toad, big as a flatiron, that lived under the
tub. He was a wrinkled, peaceable, old customer. When, in the
bright sunshine, I would set up the mirror in the fern garden door
and shave, he sometimes would take half a jump and unclose the
little jewels of his eyes. Or he'd turn his back and sleep. We made
no demands upon each other and so got along very well.
Breakfast was at seven. The tropical day has a drowsy gap in
the middle of it, and so must begin early. But the days at Blue Hole
could not well be too long. I guessed that the first morning, when
I looked down on the glistening coconut groves and sea.
Near at hand poinsettias flamed, allspice trees lifted towers of
rich green. Ezekiel, the "boy," came and went with a tin on his
head, watering the vegetable patch. In the common at the foot of
the hill, where the cattle and goats grazed, the plantation laborers
already were swinging their cutlasses, clearing the day's allotted
acre of the shrubby growths that had sprung up since the last rains.
After breakfast my habit was to spend mornings at the cove. On
some days, however, a norther blew from Cuba. When this hap-
pened the villagers bandaged their heads in flannel to keep the
tooth-ache off, and I went not to the cove, but to the ragged coral
shelf of Barbican, the next plantation, to watch the surf. The rocks
were too sharp to sit on but I soon learned that a coconut husk
eased that misery.
It was a rousing performance. The waves piled up, and exploded
into sheaves of diamonds, and churned, and spouted, and fell back
in shawls of foamy lacework. Nor could I help admiring the crabs
107 DAYS AT BLUE HOLE
that sat calmly in the most exposed places and took all that buffet-
ing. No shock could ruffle their dour decorum. They put me in
mind of the Texas outlaw, who was so tough that in the electric
chair he blew out the fuse.
Usually, however, mornings were serene. Under the veranda
hung a stem of ripe bananas from which Scamp, who was very neat
about it, was permitted to help himself. I had the same privilege,
and would fill my pockets when ready to trudge down to the cove.
Before I had come to Jamaica I had formed a happy idea of the
place. The St* Ann's waterfalls were old stamp-album friends;
there was Tom Cringle's Log; and in The Sea and the Jungle I
had read that the island was a jewel that smelled like a flower. But
I had not guessed that I should have a cove of my own to revel in,
There was a crescent of beach, with coconut trees leaning over
it, and sea-grape trees with leathery round leaves just right for
picnic plates. There were ramparts of coral rock at the two ends
to dive from, with the wickerwork of mangroves beyond, where
crabs went climbing. There was a pelican standing guard and a
reef to keep the sharks out.
In the arms of a crooked sea grape I played the mouth organ,
ate bananas, and read Ovid's Metamorphoses. As reading, this was
not very up-to-date, and while I was at it the world's problems
went unsolved. Still, it suited: when I looked up from those hot
and hard old stories, sometimes so beautiful, oftentimes so bar-
barous, and saw the palm leaves glint and the sea swell shoreward
in long turquoise undulations, and the white coral rock burning
in the sun, I would stretch my figleaf-naked self and startle the
pelican with a classic blast on the harmonica.
On the cove sands lay a dugout canoe that I was free to use.
Since an old Greek from Minnesota is never so much at home as
when he has a paddle in his hand, I spent plenty of time afloat,
following the shore or striking out to sea. But die reef gave me
MANY A GREEN ISLE 108
the freshest pleasure. Blissfully, hours at a time, I cruised over it
Excitement heats me to this day when I remember those sand-
paved caverns, fenced around with mustard-colored elkhorns,
gigantic moss-green cauliflowers, lilac-tinted tubes where the
dissolving gray of weightless sea-feathers nodded, and sea-fans
fanned in nets of burning purple. Pink anemones beamed, fan-
tastic fish swam in and out in schools like movable bright beds
Sometimes the flying fish, like silver bullets, would come in
about the canoe, ricocheting on the glassy water with the sound
of a fountain. Or a Portaguese-man-o'-war would drift by, a clear
blue gelatinous bubble as big as your fist, with a clear pink-jelly
frill on top, inflated to make a sail.
But by eleven the sea breeze was lolloping in. It was time for a
swim and then for luncheon.
After lunch, a nap, and then came tea.
In the West Indies the Negroes think it a burden to carry things
in their hands. They prefer to balance them on their heads. At first
when a woman came down the street with a writing desk in that
position I had set people to laughing by asking, "Is she a public
stenographer?" But now I had got used to seeing the school
children with their books up there, and the laundresses with their
109 DAYS AT BLUE HOLE
clothesbaskets, or even a boy going to post a letter with a rock on
top of it to keep it from blowing off. Even so, when Lil the butler
would clap the tea tray on her head, and skip for the kitchen,
I never ceased to be surprised.
A Jamaican tea is something to brag about. Wistfully I recall
the cashew biscuits, the crisp buttery lacework of cassava wafers.
And since Blue Hole was a plantation where two hundred thou-
sand nuts were harvested every year, coconut cake was a luxury
Miss Taylor frequently could afford. After all this, however, I
really could not do justice to the delights of dinner unless I went
mountain climbing first.
The house, as Mrs. Hay's story of the earthquake had fore-
warned me, was built into a hillside. This made for safety in a
hurricane, and indeed the old house more than once had had to
stand that chief of West Indian scourges. Miss Taylor liked to
recall one storm when the piano blew out the front door with a
rumble and a pop, which ended her music lessons forever. But
Jamaican hills are likely to be mountains, and such they were at
Blue Hole. Thus I could go mountain climbing after tea as readily
as I went reef cruising after breakfast, and every day I did it.
Sometimes Mrs. Hay would grasp a stick and come along.
A favorite climb was the Mango Walk. The path to the heights
on which the villagers grew shallots and yams and cocoa lilies in
a cooler altitude, led through steep groves of mangoes and bam-
boos and came out grandly into the open gardens at last. On the
way I would meet people coming down with yams they had
dug. "Respects to you, my master!" would boom a stately Negro
woman, curtsying in spite of the heavy basket on her head; her
bright turban and dark cutlass would make her look most pic-
turesque. Upon hearing such a greeting the little Northern re-
publican would beam with pleasure.
Near the ridge top was a spring in a hollow of the rock with
maidenhair ferns around it. This made my destination. Sitting
MANY A GREEN ISLE no
there to catch my wind, I would look down into the golden
afternoon world, past the cocky plumes of the breadfruit trees,
feather-duster bamboo clumps, and dense balls of mango greenery
to the coconut flats by the sea, and watch the steamers, blunt and
busy, and the white sails of beautiful becalmed sailing ships.
It was a peaceable world, and better still its peaceableness
seemed a part of myself. My soul, usually just of the peanut size,
swelled out in pygmy grandeur, and all the dear works of the
Creator, spread out so beautifully below, filled it with calm and
At dinnertime would come a sudden sunset; the mountains
blackened, the clouds turned a dreadful red. In the silence all at
once the lapping of waves would rise to us from the black sands
of Barbican Bay. But distant sounds soon were smothered in the
thick din of night insects. The Muscovy ducks, heads under
wings, slept perched on the cannons sunk in the terrace turf. No
piratical surprises these nights to set that old battery to barking!
The tropical darkness descended with a rush, overwhelming,
velvet-black. But in the middle of it, bravely gay, was our veranda
dinner table with its old silver and flowered china, fringed napkins
standing in the glasses, little nosegays of hibiscus and jasmine, and
beaming lamp. Strange moths flitted overhead, praying mantises
jumped into the salad, but nobody minded. Mr. Hairs sat at my
left, Miss Taylor carved at my right. Opposite sat Mrs. Hay, look-
ing humorous, and Mrs. Rankine, Miss Taylor's aunt.
Mrs. Rankine, years before, after a long life of industry and
self-sacrifice had decided to grow old. So she shrank down to the
mosquito size and lost her wits, and never afterward bothered to
do a tap of work or talk sensibly. From her own plantation in
the mountains her bed had been fetched, a huge black structure in
native mahogany, carved with pineapples and scrolls, in whose
company she was perfectly content. She teased the public with
very strange sewing and said cryptic things in a merry voice, and
Ill DAYS AT BLUE HOLE
in general lived a life of mysterious privacy. But she liked the
American visitor well enough and enjoyed being winked at now
and then. And though she never said much herself at table, she
laughed more gaily than anybody when one of the rest of us
Mrs. Hay was full of puns and drolleries. After she had said
something especially good, she had a habit of covering her face
with her hand in mock embarrassment; but since one finger was
lost from that hand she could peep through slyly and enjoy our
laughter. For all her puns, however, she lived a life of sadness.
Her husband, who had been a hospitable, princely sort of man,
was dead; their daughter, who was a beauty, had gone away to
New York; and her plantation Cousins Cove was falling to ruin.
She left Blue Hole before I did. I shall never forget the night
ride when we took her home, now humping over a white bridge
with the sea rushing in beneath, now skirting a bay where the
fishermen brandished enormous flaming torches on the rocks.
Never did anything make night so black, as those Negroes' torches.
Then here was Cousins Cove at last, with the dogs in their rapture,
jumping on the dining table.
But it was a far, lonely, decrepit place to leave that good Scots-
woman, and so I am glad to say that she came back to Blue Hole
the following Tuesday. Miss Taylor craved company, too; and
in Jamaica, as was true in our own Old South, plantation visitors
come often and stay a long time.
Mr. Hairs was a quiet man, whose British habit of speaking
without moving his lips was exaggerated to a point where I could
understand but little of what he said. But he was very patient
about repeating, and about instructing me in the names of things.
"It's a Betsy-kickup, that bird," he would say, and break into a
smile, for the darky names he thought very funny. He was at
home on a horse and wore the oldest, droopiest, most comfort-
able hat you can imagine.
MANY A GREEN ISLE
Coconut day was his busy day as it was Mrs. Rankine's. She
stood on the veranda watching the sale and murmuring, "Coc'nut,
coc'nut," and nodding and smiling, while he, down below, dick-
ered with the dozen buyers. It was the 'same, I suppose, in pimento
time, when the allspice berries had been dried on the sun "barbe-
cues," and were ready to dispose of. But at noon the sale was
over. He would retire into his office under the steps; and the
buyers, each man with a fire of his own down by the old breeze
mill, would cook their dozen lunches of yams and fish.
Of Miss Taylor's qualities as a hostess it is a pleasure to speak.
She was easy, entertaining, and thoughtful. But sometimes she
was a bit absent-minded, as you will understand when I tell you
how her bathing suit was lost. We were all going to Orchard,
three or four plantations away, to swim; there was the hulk of a
wrecked steamer lying on the beach to dress in, and it was going
to be a frolic.
But when all was ready Miss Taylor's suit was gone. Not ten
minutes before it had lain on a chair where several of us had seen
it. Now it was nowhere, as exhaustive search proved. Even Scamp
was accused of having run off with it. Poor Miss Taylor was
desperate until Rhoda gasped: "Lord a-matty, Miss Amy! You got
it on!" Sure enough, she had put it on under her frock to make
changing simpler when we got to the beach.
Thus it was the aptness rather than the absent-mindedness of
her remark at dinner one evening that made it memorable. We
were having roast pig the Blue Hole porkers, by the way, are
fed on breadfruit, coconut, and bananas and midway through
the meal she turned to me and politely murmured, "Won't you
have more of the filling, Mr. Stuffing?"
At this, in a paroxysm, Mrs. Hay retired behind her four-
fingered hand; Mrs. Rankine fetched out a high cackle; and Mr.
Hairs, who seldom got beyond a mournful grin, had to laugh too.
113 DAYS AT BLUE HOLE
"Mr. Stuffing" was my name henceforward at Blue Hole and I
never bothered to be undeserving of it.
Miss Taylor, in fact, had sensed from the first that, devoted
though I might be to the dear dishes of the dear homeland, what
I wanted in Jamaica was Jamaican dishes. So she sent her ranger
into the bush for native fruit, star apples with purple flesh, rusty
brown naseberries, granadillas whose seeds I drank in their own
liquor, soursops for sherbet.
There was cocoa-bud soup and pumpkin soup, fried plantain,
steamed breadfruit, akee-on-toast. There were stuffed chochos
and delicious fish brought on the run fresh every noon from
Barbican Bay; guava or cashew fruit preserves, and puddings made
of sweet potatoes and ginger. There was coconut water in a tall
pitcher with a weighted lace cover over the top, and coffee from
the Blue Mountains. And the way I not merely sampled but
gorged upon all these good things earned very legitimately the
name Miss Taylor's slip of the tongue had given me.
After dinner the mail would be brought by William, who came
whistling in the dark. Letters I seldom got, and so I would beg to
be excused and walk down to the sea.
At Blue Hole the night world in some ways is more beautiful
than the world by day. When a leaf falls from a coconut tree, as
constantly happens, it is fifteen feet long and a yard wide and
so makes something of a blot on the lawn. But at night you do
not see it, whereas the palm leaves overhead, in crisp silhouette,
look finer than ever. I soon became an ardent coconut palmist
and would stand enraptured under a not-too-tall tree, with the
wigwam of its lattice about me and the stars blinking through
above until the sound of a ripe nut dropping from some other
MANY A GREEN. ISLE 114
tree would pull my head into its collarbone and send me into the
open on the jump.
Beyond the gate was the bridge. Blue Hole's blue hole is a
spring, actually of an agate color;* and from it a surprisingly large
stream flows through banks of watercress and Job's-tears to
In the daytime, in the water by the bridge, stand the Negro
women of Barbican and Sandy Bay, doing their washing. Miss
Taylor regarded the custom as most uncouth, but immemorial
use had established it as their British right before she was born,
so she could do nothing to alter matters.
The girls' skirts were certainly tucked high. "Oh, what a pretty
gentleman! Good enough to eat!" they would call when I went
by. Or, "Wonder why gentleman don't carry a cane?" Then
they would smack their wet clothes and laugh uproariously.
But at night the stream and the bridge were as still as a grave.
If a Negro did come riding on his mule, he would wheel in fright
at the glimmer of my white trousers, before calling a relieved
Beyond the bridge was a palmy bit of shore, neat and narrow:
here I walked. It was the dark of the moon, there was no horizon,
the stars overhead ran down into new mirrorwise constellations
under my feet while I paced on this shelf among them. On such
nights, or even more when the moon returned and swamped the
world in radiance, there would be music from across the water.
Sandy Bay would fall to singing.
Sandy Bay is no great place, but it is enough bigger than Cala-
bash Bay to boast a post office. When I bought stamps there, the
postmistress would put down the gungo-peas she was shelling and
pass the time of day.
Above her office and bedroom was the district court, a bare
* Jamaica's more famous ''Blue Hole" is a cove in the coast near Port Antonio, of a
blue genuinely vivid.
115 DAYS AT BLUE HOLE
clean place where Mrs. Hay and I one day heard a Negro arraigned
for "furious driving." Thirty-five miles an hour had been his
speed, but he had come around a corner on the wrong side which
had caused the mischief. His witness, a healthy black boy, kissed
the Bible with a report like a pistol shot, whereupon the Irish
inspector, to whom things Jamaican were as new as they were to
me, could not help laughing, even though he was seated by the
magistrate. And when the trial was over, here were the children
outside, screaming their multiplication tables under a soursop
tree, and the fishermen bringing in their catch.
But at night Sandy Bay broke out in music. On a palm log
I would sit and listen.
First there would be drum music, big drum and tom-tom con-
trasting their slow and rapid rhythms; this soon passed into a
grand vocal concert of Moody and Sankey hymns. Stanza upon
stanza, the tramp, tramp, tramp of chords would march across
the mirror of the sea, rich, swelling, and full. One night a fisher-
man setting his nets between the singers' side of the bay and mine,
unseen and alone on the starlit water, invented melodies of his
own and wove them into the village harmony.
In a word, here were doings of exactly the kind I hope for on
my island except, of course, that I was a listener rather than a
participant. No, these singers were my inferiors, with whom for
the good of the delicately-balanced Blue Hole world it was not
well for the white guest to mix. Mr. Hairs and he and I were
one, here, in a sense bought their labor as he needed it, gave
orders or was patronizing from on horseback, and collected the
rent; while they tilled their hilltop fields communally and washed
clothes at the plantation gate.
But a well-balancing world is something to admire; if honor
lay on one side and mere numbers on the other, it was nice to be
where honor was my inherent portion. Nor did I find anything
to mar the tenor of those Blue Hole days.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 1 1<5
But they ended at last, of course. We breakfasted gloomily in-
doors that morning. Cooped in the dining room, with the ladles
and blue finger glasses glowering from the sideboard, I felt the
end already upon me. Mrs. Rankine had got up in the middle of
the night to be present, and put on her best dress.
Here were the servants, Rhoda and Lil the butler, Ezekiel and
William, and the cook whom I had seldom seen but to whom I
was most indebted of any all wishing me health, good fortune,
and a speedy return, while the jasmine leaves over their heads
began to show color in the first chilly light of morning. Good-by!
good-by! And off I rode.
The next letter I got from Miss Taylor began, not Dear Miss
Smith, but Dear Mr. Stuffing. It told how Scamp, the day after
this departure, had come in with a hunk of coral in his mouth as
usual. But then he saw the bed empty and was disgusted and
dropped the coral with a thump. Then he went out through the
fern garden, down through the big garden, and so under the
veranda and ate a banana.
When I was in Jamaica again, on this more recent journey of
mine, I hustled out to Blue Hole very promptly: one of a
traveler's pleasures is the return to scenes no longer strange. The
place certainly seemed homelike here was old Scamp at the
top of the steps, and Miss Taylor, Ezekiel, and the rest. Only
Mrs. Rankine, more mysterious in her fun than ever, had gone
away; she had left the green isle where old age had been so happy,
for the surer and even kindlier serenities of heaven.
THE ISLE OF DOVES
!N MY ISLAND I INTEND TO LEAD THE
active life. There is too much of the Anglo-Saxon in me, or maybe
it is the Devil, to accept the Blue Hole kind of indolence unless
I have partly earned it. But whereas in Cold Spring it would seem
I must await a serene and carpet-slippery old age to read Parson
Woodf orde's Diaries entire, or compose a sonata for the neighbor
children's toy piano, on my island I shall revel in these enter-
prises in the prime of life, confident that such moral duties as
spading cow manure into the garden won't suffer in consequence.
In the small orbit of island life, that is, I hope really to be able
to tend to business.
William Thornton of old Tortola was an islander whose life
was a model Even the time he wasted I'm sure he wasted with a
will it could hardly have been for want of more positive plans.
Tortola is the chief island of the British Virgins; the Thornton
estate was Pleasant Valley. When William came to his inheritance
he was newly married, a young man trained as a physician. But
the cares of managing an estate and of practicing medicine did not
drain away the energies of our hero, nor did the delights of wed-
lock, nor the disciplined enthusiasms of religion (he was a
Quaker). No, for his soul's private exercise he evolved a system
of philology, Cadmus, or the Elements of Written Language;
and to top all off, in his rustic retreat he sat down and designed
the United States' capitol building.
MANY A GREEN L S L E u8
What bliss! Private fun became a public wonder: though he
reached Philadelphia too late to enter his design in the competi-
tion that Jefferson had advertised, it was so much better than those
punctually received that the latter were all thrown out. He "won
the $500 and the Washington city lot.
Tortola never saw Thornton after this; he stayed to organize
the Patent Office, to breed race horses, and enchant society with
his conversation, and so died a mainlander after all. It seems a pity.
I wish he had come back to Pleasant Valley. Tortola, it is, that
remembers him: the mainland has forgotten the amazing amate-ur.
And since familiarity with legislative bodies breeds contempt, we
have grown to regard the domed legislative building he invented
as something of a fraud. Our newest state capitols are office build-
ings frankly hives for job holders. But in Thornton's day the
republican process of government was still touched with its early
sublimity, and his expression of this in a dome was a masterstroke.
The other New World capitol builders, from Minnesota to the
Argentine, copied it for a hundred years*
Thornton arrived on the mainland with his title to greatness
already earned. As a rule, however, the West Indies' famous men
have left their islands before accomplishing the work that was to
make them notable. Alexander Hamilton (of Nevis) was an infant
prodigy in St. Croix where he spent his boyhood, but it was in
American fiscal affairs that he won his fame. Brion, Bolivar's
admiral, helped free not his native Curasao but the South Amer-
ican states. Born in Haiti, Audubon painted North American
birds. Born in St. Thomas, Pissarro, the genial "Dutch uncle" of
the Impressionists, painted French landscapes. The twin-named
poets of Santiago de Cuba, Jose Maria Heredia, and Jos6-Maria de
Heredia, both became naturalized mainlanders de Heredia a
Frenchman, the great master of the French sonnet, Heredia a
The Spanish-writing Heredia, however, is a special case, He
119 THE ISLE OF DOVES
was a political exile; enforced absence from still colonial Cuba
made him only the more passionately Cuban. This luminary among
Latin-American poets belongs, rather, on the list of West Indians
of international consequence who were islanders forever with
Finlay the Cuban bacteriologist who first accused the mosquito of
carrying yellow fever; with Hostos the Puerto Rican, so valuable
to the cause of Latin-American education that the first locomotive
to chuff across the Andes was named in his honor; or with black
Toussaint of Haiti, almost legendary as soldier and statesman, and
the West Indies' chief native-born hero of any color.*
Since it is too late now for me to be born an islander myself,
I take special interest in the lives of mainlanders who have gone
to the isles to unfold their talents: Ponce de Le6n, or Rodney,
or (less illustrious but, to me, more inspiring) Bryan Edwards,
the opening chapter of whose history of the British islands is a
classic of geographical prose writing. And because his aptitudes
like my own are still more curious and minor, it is pleasant to
think of the robed and earringed figure of the old Jew, Lopez
Laguna, safe at last under a Jamaican fig tree after the long horror
of the Inquisition, translating King David's psalms into the
"redondilos, quintilos, terzettos, decimes, madrigals, and ro-
mances" of his Faithftd Mirror of Life. What setting like an island
for a labor at once so daffy and so delicious?
Robb White, not yet immortal so far as I know, was an even
more pertinent example. I looked at him with care while we rode
out to Tortola together on the mail boat. With short hair bleached
by the sun and tanned cheerful visage, he made a very whole-
some picture of an escapist.
Marina Cay was his and his wife's hermitage. He had bought
it entire beach, rocks, and all for the price of a good overcoat,
* One other Haitian general deserves mentionthe mulatto Alexandra Dumas,
not because of island renown, but because of the family he reared in France: Dumas
pete was his son, Dumas fils his grandson.
MANY A GREEN ISLE I2O
and since he would never need an overcoat now he really had got
it for nothing, so you might say. It was the perfect home for a
writer of children's books to work in.
However, it was not yet his actual address. The cost of build-
ing something more than a grass hut on a far reef-guarded scrap
of Arcady was appalling; he had just been to St. Thomas to
inquire about it. No; but if the ultimate insularity of Marina Cay
was yet in prospect he already knew the island life. At Seacow
Bay, Tortola, he had been busy over his manuscripts for some
time. Both he and his wife a vigorous girl who made the native
Tortolians gasp by climbing for coconuts as if she were a boy
liked fishing and sailing and photographing birds. And there were
duties. "When other fun gives out, we can always scrape the
cistern," he added gamely; for though Tortola was a far larger
island than his own, it was still too small to provide underground
sources of fresh water to tap with a well.
Talk like this made my island seem both more possible and
more impossible. About us, meanwhile, as the launch plowed
through the radiant waters of Pillsbury Sound, were islands near,
neat, and uninhabited. Fd have given an overcoat for any one
Presently we skirted St. John with its bright coves and wilder-
ness of green hills: a cherry-red roof or a stone tower poked above
the trees for an occasional reminder that man is master of the
planet. And then through the steep gorge of the mountainous
Narrows we swung, and so into the West Indies' grandest seaway,
Sir Francis Drake Channel.
What a setting for a fleet of Elizabethan ships, lanterned, high-
pooped, rich-bepennoned! Drake had a sense of the picturesque,
sailing this hidden way to the siege of Puerto Rico. Yet in this
same obscure world of brine and hill it was, in the tranquillity of
his study ashore, that Thornton wrote Cadmus and designed his
THE ISLE OF DOVES
capitol: to the north, with bush slopes gilt-edged by the day's
last sunshine, ky Tortola, the Isle of Doves.
Robb White was not the sole mainlander for whom Tortola was
a haven. The hotel had been taken over by one who occupied all
three rooms as a means of guarding his privacy; for, as he told
me, if there was anything he detested it was the American tourist.
Since this was what both of us were, it was surprising to have him
look me up a second time to enlarge on the theme, but after that
I managed to elude him.
It was Mistress Jennings who took care of me. As if putting
my Matanzas student's welcome into literal practice in Road
Town, she moved out of her house and let me have it. I suppose
she slept in the kitchen, a rickety shed propped up among the
crab holes; it was Orwin who slept in the pantry her nephew
and a being no less kind.
The bedroom was next the street and was painted Indian red.
In time I ceased to notice the mosquitoes much, and could squirm
inside the net without leaving an inch gap anywhere about me.
The parlor was painted brown, and on a table, in a dish, were
the postcards that Mistress Jennings had received to date. Behind
this was the dining room, painted blue.
I think of the dining room most fondly. Into it Orwin would
bound in his khaki shorts, bearing a pot of coffee that tasted like
cough medicine or a platter from which a much-peppered fish
stared up dolefully. It was the Creole diet complete, and after a
MANY A GREEN ISLE 122
day of footing the island's trails I could do it justice. While I
was at this, Orwin would sit in the- pantry, Bible on bare knees,
chanting psalms in a private but resonant darky voice; then to
the kitchen he would gallop to fetch pineapple slabs for a dessert.
Mistress Jennings not only plied the guest with her best recipes,
but set the table as if every day were Sunday. Her silver sugar
bowl had a dove for its lid handle, which bird seemed a symbol
of the place: tortola is the Spanish word for "turtle dove." While
Orwin resumed his poetry and I began my fruit, it was easy to
fall to thinking of the outdoor doves I had learned to know. For
though the mongoose, that gimlet-toothed rascal brought from
India to prey on cane-field rats, had stayed to prey on the ground-
nesting birds instead, doves were still the islands' commonest
feathered creatures. I thought of the tobacco doves especially, so
gregarious, with a lining of burnt orange under their rattling
Then my thoughts would roam away to the hummingbirds,
and how they proved Pliny's saying (as one of the first writers
on the Caribbees exclaimed), that Nature's least works are her
greatest. Tobago's dude, the king-of-the-woods, had kindly
showed his Joseph's coat for my benefit; in Curasao the parakeets
in strident flocks had wheeled over the Fuik Bay lignum vitaes.
And in Jamaica, on Catherine's Peak, while I ate ham sandwiches
for breakfast, the solitaire had chanted his slow crystalline melody
from a fog-drenched thicket: once and for all, that morning, the
false notion I had brought to the tropics was dispelled that no
tropical bird can sing.
The bird music most noteworthy in the islands, however, is
made by the crowing cocks. Road Town boasted the usual brass
band, but it was a lady of the breed, there, that was my special
Across the street from Mistress Jennings's and near enough to
hit with a peashooter was the house inhabited by this hen and
123 THE ISLE OF DOVES
her mistress. It was a house with two front doors, one gaping into
mid-air, and over the sill of this false door the lady sold a penny's
worth of salt or plantains now and then or argued a point of
divinity. Did "eternal" in Bible use, for instance, signify a longer
period than "everlasting"?
Between trade and such chitchat Mistress Audley was always
occupied. So was her hen, anchored near by with a piece of iron.
The hen had chicks, there was eating to do to educate them in
the process not a moment could be lost. Thus, when rain
threatened and the iron was picked up to lead her home, she
squawked bloody murder. Hereupon my neighbor, seating her-
self on the steps of the real front door, would first deliver a short
lecture on obedience, then turn her pet over on her lap and
When the rain fell that Mistress Audley's old eyes had fore-
seen, the mountaintops would disappear, and even the near-by
coconut trees turned to silver. It was a poor time for business but
good for hymns: with hen fluffed up at her feet to keep the chicks
from damp, she would sit in the other doorway and sing in big,
thrilling, lonesome tones.
Living at Mistress Jennings's, in fact, gave me opportunity to
enjoy the noises of a not-white, poor, island neighborhood. At
home in Cold Spring the tombstone man is muffled all day in the
grate of saws on granite, and at night the radio makes a cease-
less background for conversation. But this was like my imagined
island, where the only mechanical sound was the whirr of a sewing
machine or two, briskly treadled.
No chugging hearse sped the Road Town deceased to the
cemetery: plank coffins were carried by, by faithful friends. With
scuffle of feet and swinging canes, wedding processions came
along and the parson clattered away to pay sick calls on his pony.
The town's traffic problem, in fact, was the tethering on market
days of such mounts as his.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 124
From the sea, conch-shell hoots announced the approach of
fishing boats with their catch for sale. The hill gardeners strode
by, heads laden with produce, bantering one another, or airing
grievances. And while I stretched out on the gallery to digest my
food, the neighbor women broke the day's round of argument,
scolding, singing, and laughter, to knock on the pantry door and
hand in specimens of their needlework.
Compared with the famous drawn work of Saba, Tortola's can
only be called rustic. And since like this other island's it is done
half for pastime and thus only half professionally, the industry is
picayune indeed compared with Puerto Rico's. But the surprise of
finding such things available gave them value: I was a generous
customer, and could be prices suited my wrinkled wallet to a T.
To this day, when I carve the roast at home, the juice that flies is
caught on a carver's cloth of Road Town manufacture.
It was puzzling to guess how the skill to make this Spanish
drawn work, and doilies laced intricately within circles of pins
had taken root; but Mistress Jennings had the explanation. The
Beef Island planter's lady was the author of it a Belgian who
had lived in Mexico. While I listened to the story of -her kindliness,
a new doily showing its pattern on each knee, evening settled
with equal kindliness on the little town. Pomegranates swung on
their wiry twigs, crabs sidled up cautiously from their holes, the
boys could be heard in the distance hollering at their game of
tops. Very likely old Thornton would have found it hard to
recognize the place: the island's hero had ridden this way in its
most prosperous age. But the one street, long since robbed of its
architecture by storm and riot, looked content in the humbler
phase, of cabins nestling among broken masonry.
An island change had come over the needlework, too, no doubt.
The lacemakers of old Spain or Belgium would probably have
disowned it. So, likewise, while Chippendale worked that new
wood, mahogany, that the West Indies were shipping north,
125 THE ISLE OF DOVES
island cabinetmakers planed away in the belief that they were
copying Old World models. But unconscious ignorance gave
them a secret liberty. The four-poster beds and console tables
that they made had a character that was new. Bolder in form than
the originals and more peasantlike, they were "Colonial" with a
tropical difference. Mrs. Rankine's bed at" Blue Hole was the
epitome of the style. As for Haiti's armchairs, the most comfort-
able on earth, though they had been copied from a French pro-
vincial type to begin with, recopying had made them Creole at
last to their deep straw bottoms.
But if the skills of these cabinetmakers and needlewomen
harked back to Europe, basketry carried forward a native trade.
The islands' most famous baskets, even now, in fact, are made by
the remnant of the Caribs in Dominica stout, handsome, and
rainproof to suit the Caribbees' wet climate.
Palm-leaf bags that close with a flap I had seen were typical
of Grenada, double lidded arm baskets, of Haiti; as for the pro-
fusion of shapes that lure tourist money in Nassau, Kingston, or
Port-au-Prince, they showed what wealth of invention was pos-
sible to the Negro weavers. And who can remember the grace of
the hat weavers' hands at work, or the gay way the colored people
wear their hats, without a pang of homesickness for the palmy
Then there were boats to think about, while Road Town's
beacon burned less and less ineffectually in the gathering dusk;
for in an island world where such craft are a homely common-
place, their color and shape and rigging take on local flavor. If I
had guessed at the outset of my journey that every port, almost,
was to have its nautical peculiarities, I would have kept a record
of them to systematize on my own island at last, for a chore to
justify the retired existence.
But now it was too late to begin. While the tide lapped up
MANY A GREEN ISLE 126
among the mangroves behind the kitchen, recollection roved back
to Havana's aquamarine-painted fishing fleet, and to the scoop-
nosed dugouts of Jamaica, rowed cross-handed because of their
narrowness Santo Domingo's piraguas, because still slimmer,
were all the more evidently hollow logs. And then the canoes
of the Caribbees proper came to mind the Apperly boys' boat
in Dominica, for instance, with its Carib-style advancing stem, or
the dugout that Antoine and his friends were making in Gouyave.
"Antoine and his friends" here very likely was the formula
to keep an island's industry wholesome. The boats and baskets
and bedsteads I had been thinking of, and the needlework, were
made by groups of intimates jabbering at their work, on beach
or under mango tree, or on galleries like this one of Mistress
The convent workshops in San Juan were a step removed from
the ideal, perhaps, but the girls embroidering like mad there had
their social fun. The Camagiiey saddlers were great singers; and
the cigar-makers of Havana, busy in high, leaf -scented rooms,
listened to yellow-backed novels read aloud by their hired readers.
Only in the sugar mills, where machines made both the racket
and the sugar, were gossip and improvised variations in technique
wholly out of place.
But even cane grinding can be sociable, and Tortola was the
place to show me this. The mill at Newtown, around the bay,
was perhaps too primitive, but if the methods used in it were
laborious, the work done, the shed itself, and the rum that was
the final product, all were the peasants' own as was also the big
127 THE ISLE OP DOVES
roisterous party, noisy with conch-shell toots, that marked the
Housebuilding at Newtown was no less neighborly. Guitar-
playing well-wishers lay helpfully in the shade, to mix music
with the concrete; other friends lent a hand in more practical
effort. And the infant onlookers caught rides to the beach if they
could (or ran along anyhow) when the colony's one motor
vehicle, a has-been truck, panted down for sand.
Tortola's fieldwork I found being done to music: bush clear-
ing, planting, and yam digging could be a game, it was plain,
if a group went at it in time with a strong-rhythmed song. The
solo remarks bawled out with yoohooing chorus of brief reply
that I stopped to hear on the trail to Brewers' Bay, were for all
the world like the work songs of the Haitian mountaineers. And
well might the singers be equally loud lunged. Their forefathers,
too, had hustled the white landlords from their island: the last
they saw of them was a comical bottom view as they shinnied over
a ridge to boats and safety. It was an unsanguinary rout after
which the hard, self-helpful, African mode of doing things pre-
vailed, and the colony ceased to be much of a jewel in the British
Well, I grudged these people nothing. Recollection of Blue
Hole's hilltop fields meanwhile rose to mind, in whose tillage,
though it had been allied for two centuries with plantation capi-
talism, a communal scheme of work full-bloodedly survived.
Wonder of wonders, the two systems were compatible. These
more truly free Tortolians, however, were both less obsequious
and less pert than the plantation tenants. I liked their unself-
I also liked the hill world they cultivated. The field-checkered
slopes up which the path had toiled, smoothed away now into
turfy uplands. Wind-carved shrubs were massed handsomely
MANY A GREEN ISLE 128
around huge rocks. Behind me glinted Sir Francis Drake Channel,
with its far battlement of islands; ahead lay the ocean, with the
trade wind blowing in. What a day! What a world! I let loose
a loud yoohoo of my own; but wished, for full kinship with
the place, that I were in still older and fewer clothes, singing at
work with my island neighbors.
At bay level, in another hour, I could still hear the hills' echo-
ing refrains: from over a shoulder of rock and the high woods
above, down came the far-off cadence. But there was nearer
music to catch my ear. Under a tree lolled a minstrel-Uncle
Remus, with a circle of listeners about him.
He was an old man named Penn. Where the sickle of beach
died at the bay's cliff boundary, his boat was moored ready to
take a load of charcoal. And here the sacked charcoal was, ready
to be taken. He should have been loading it, I suppose, and
returning ambitiously to Road Town to nail his profits. Perhaps
his thought was, however, that he could grow little poorer or
more tattered if he knocked off for the afternoon, and spun out
the tales and riddles and ballads of which his old pumpkin of a
head was so rattling-full.
At any rate this was what he was doing. Against the beach-top
almond tree he lounged, wrinkled, leathery, and beaming, with a
donkey tethered to a low bough at his side. The audience sat on
the coal sacks, four or five boys and four or five girls, all as tattered
and merry as himself.
For a white unknown to join such a party is normally the ruin
of it. But somehow I joined this one. Was I invisible, for pity's
sake? No, they shared with me the good time they were having.
It was as if Haroun al Raschid, in one of his luckiest disguises,
were learning first-hand what the talk was in the bazaars.
I hope Haroun better understood low Arabic than I did Mr.
Penn's Creole English. It was insular to an extreme. The poetry,
129 THE ISLE OF DOVES
too, ran on into an unbooky French and Spanish that left me even
more blank, though the children, ignorant but polylingual, kicked
up their feet higher at these drolleries than any. But Cowper's
"Wreck of the Royal George" was a relief to die ear; and after
all I caught a fair part of the ballads about the bad girls of Macoris
and other ports, which songs' accompaniment he pantomimed on
an imaginary fiddle.
No sooner was one song done than the audience called for
more. Especially the rowdy were in request: these made every-
body topple off his coal sack, while the donkey, seeming to share
a taste for the lewd vocabulary, drew his lips back and fell to
Truth must have it that his bray was little more raucous than
their pink-mouthed laughter, and Mr. Penn's old voice was the
reverse of sweet. Yet while I plodded back to Road Town, with
coal marks like a pair of black sun-glasses worn astern, it all
seemed musical enough in retrospect. The work songs echoing
so hauntingly from the fields must also have had their ugliness at
close hand and stanzas not fit to print. But, far or close, the music
was graced with authenticity. It had grown out of the place itself
and was as natural in it, and as unabashed, as the tobacco doves just
flown up from the path ahead.
I thought affectionately of the birds; they were sociable like
good islanders. Tortola did not soar high enough into the blue to
please the solitaire, that recluse that must have a ferny dew-
drenched mountain peak of his own to sing on. But having thought
this, I thought affectionately of him too. Old Thornton, the
darling of the wittiest New World society of his time, was as
gregarious as a dove, yet there was something of the solitaire in
the man. In privacy he wrote Cadmus and designed his capitol.
The island to keep an eye open for, I judge, is one with a
pinnacle lonely enough for a solitaire's nest, from which the ocean
is visible in full immensity. But there must be a snug cove beach
MANY A GREEN ISLE 130
for the building of our boats, and hedged gardens whose cow
dung is spaded in to music. And well-worn paths between, of
course, where the doves flutter up when we come along, then
settle again to lean against one another, and gurgle, and proceed
with life's enterprise in company.
TURTLES AND POSTAGE
i -::HERE is NO NEED OF MY REPORTING
at this time that the English are a maritime nation; it is a truth
accepted with a yawn. Still, one proof of the fact is curious
enough to bear remark, namely, that several of the things to eat
and drink that we rfegard as most English are no produce of
England at all, but of places removed from it by long ships 7
The port laid down by "thoughtful baronets" is fetched from
Portugal. Oranges, for marmalade, come from Jaffa or Valencia.
Tea on its travels to the white tea tables of Albion must cross
two seas, parts of two oceans, to say nothing of gulfs, bays, and
other briny items. As for the turtle soup over which aldermen,
napkin in collar, smack their lips at Mansion House dinners,
where are the turtles caught to make it? In the Thames? Certainly
not. They come from the Mosquito Bank off Nicaragua and are
netted and shipped by the fishermen of Cayman.
Grand Cayman, on maps, is hard to find unless the adas is large
and your patience long one speck of British pink on the broad
blue Caribbean. It arches its seventeen-mile back just a few feet
above the sea there south of Cuba; an isle of glossy and shimmer-
MANY A GREEN ISLE 132
ing green leaves, ringed about with the white of surf or whiter
sands. When I set foot ashore it was a bright March Sabbath
morning; the almond trees, which celebrate their autumn in that
month, were towers of green and crimson along the white shore
lane, while the "Easter lilies" and amaryllises, for which it was
the spring season, stood in the white-sanded yards in clumps of
translucent white and scarlet.
No less shining, white cottages had doors of buff or peacock
blue; by the picket gates roosters arched their burnished necks,
crowing brassily in the hot sunshine. Here was the Torrid Zone
in its purest colors an island made for great calms and heats.
While we bathed in the glass surges on West Bay Beach, a young
islander who had befriended me would lift his arm and point
seaward, to the waterspouts twisting their black ducts from sea
to sky. He looked a figure out of some old sunburnt myth, point-
ing to perils that cannot touch enchanted ground.
"Angelic dynamo! Ventriloquist of the Blue!" burst out Hart
Crane, remembering Cayman, and trying to describe it in one
ejaculation. His rhapsody the Caymanians make small pretense of
fathoming. Their usual visitors are not poets, but gentle ornithol-
ogists with very little to say, or evangelists who devote their time
to reporting the existence of another and even brighter world.
Besides, turtles (and postage stamps) are the Caymanians' concern.
By agreement between Nicaragua and the British Crown, only
these islanders have the right to net turtles on the Mosquito Bank.
Such is the present form of monopoly they established for them-
selves when the catch in home waters dwindled, and maintained
a great many years thereafter by dint of hardihood, looking sharp,
and not being afraid to dare.
Jamaica, of which Cayman is a dependency, had its heyday in
the eighteenth century. Those were the times when William
Beckford, richest of Englishmen, built fantastic castles in the
wilds of Portugal and wrote Vathek on an income that poured
133 TURTLES AND POSTAGE STAMPS
in from his Jamaican sugar lands. The planters and governors who
came and went, and the red-coated fashionable military, took
home a taste for turtle soup: like the tobacco of America or the
tea of the East, the Creole luxury was accepted as one of the great
empire blessings in fact became a British institution. Thus the
Caymanians, on their outpost near earth's best turtling grounds,
in time found themselves supplying the meat not only for the
opulent Jamaican "second breakfasts," but for dinners at Mansion
House in far-off London.
In the long pursuit of this one business the islanders have
learned a great deal about it. The management of their sloops
and schooners, whose sails continually brighten the western Carib-
bean, in two hundred years has made them that sea's most respected
sailors. No yacht cruises the West Indies, people say, without at
least one Caymanian aboard. Ashore, every boy rigs toy boats and
expects to follow the sea. Every old man, behind his leathered
brow, stores the memory of ports and storms and is as likely as
not to be a retired sea captain. As for the women, they are true
sailors' wives, who vie in boasting of the superior agonies of their
various fits of seasickness on trips away from home.
Ships' carpentry is the island art. Under the almond trees the
keek are laid, saws buzz, and hard timbers, chosen for their natural
curvature, are shaped and squared. The Caymanian specialty is a
catboat, sharp both fore and aft, painted the intensest blue that
money will buy. This color, the fishermen say, is least soon
noticed by the turtles, when the boats creep up above them at
their feeding grounds; but on the still fiercer blue of the island's
harbor it so dazzled my non-turtle eyes, that the sky in comparison
As for the turtles they net, the Caymanians very well know
their subsea habits, and how to keep them alive while they are
being shipped. The women at home are expert in cooking turtle
MANY A GREEN ISLE 134
My first taste of West Indian green turtle was in the soup form,
at the old Cheshire Cheese in London, where it cost what is
euphemistically referred to as a "pretty penny/ 7 More recently,
in Nassau, I was so lucky as to be invited to dine on baked turtle
a dish, by the way, made from a recipe of 1774 at the latest, at
which date Janet Schaw's Journal of a Lady of Quality includes
it in a West Indian feast.
The creature itself was not a large one, but provided a great
event. Soup, really excellent, came first, with the pale green of
lime slices riding on its darker bosom; next, the beast proper,
turned bottom up, with its flipper meat in a ring of force-balls
and an ornate crust of scrolls and ribbons arching where its breast-
plate once had been. When Mrs. MacAfee, my hostess, plunged
in her fork, a gust of steam rose, through which I caught a glimpse
of the black cook's radiant face, peeping from the pantry.
In Grand Cayman such dainty treatment is thought unworthy
of a turtle. What! stuff him back in his own shell as if he were
a crab? Very undignified. Moreover, to bake their turtles entire,
two hundred pounds of meat and casing, would strain anybody's
oven* No, the Caymanians butcher their turtles as if they were
steers. Assorted slices of the meat, with strips of fat and pale
toothsome tissues, are fetched home from market threaded on
loops of thatch-palm fiber, to be pot-roasted with tomato, herbs,
and plenty of pepper.
It makes a dark and savory dish. When Mrs. Jones, who took
care of me in Georgetown, set down the platter, it was with a
thump of satisfaction. Here 'was something. And seating herself
where she could keep an eye on the chickens and whop the cat
when he grew too querulous at the door, she would repeat the
compliments heaped upon her roast turtle by my predecessors.
It was the new arrival's turn to add quotable remarks, I could see
that plainly. And since she was a widow who had had a great
many troubles to bear, there in the little white house among the
135 TURTLES AND POSTAGE STAMPS
breadfruit and orange trees, I did my best to oblige. The epitaph
writer was not to be outdone in compliments by any mere
ornithologist or a parcel of Adventist missionaries.*
At night, in Georgetown, after the blue catboats had been
tied to their buoys, and the West Indian nightingale, teetering in
an orange tree, had said its last melodious say, the moon would
begin to shine in a queenly style, and the white roads that wound
narrowly among the fruit groves looked whiter than ever.
On one such night I walked out to Captain Panton Thompson's.
The Sunday previous I had seen him ride in to church on his
pony, with a hymnbook under his arm and a straw hat set to a
geometrically precise horizontal atop his gray head. We had
become acquainted then, exchanged views on international poli-
tics, and he had asked me to dinner at Linnhirst Avenue, his
little estate, giving me directions as to how to reach it.
This proposed venture threw Mrs. Jones into a fever of anxiety.
How could she trust me to find my way on so large an island?
It was like praising her^turtle over again; I had to be profuse,
extensive, and superlative in my promises to turn back if I found
myself bewildered, before she would let me go. And then, foot-
ing it straight ahead down quite the right road, whistling in the
* Cayman, by the way, is a rock-ribbed stronghold of Presbyterianism, not easy
to undermine. Perhaps the stranded mariners who were its earliest settlers were
.Scotchmen, as in the case of Calabash Bay. Worthy of note here, too, is the fact
that those other ancient white communities more extraordinary because English-
speaking in Latin America the Bay Islands off the north coast of Honduras, have
Caymanian names attached to two of the principal families, viz: Sodden and Kirk-
MANY A GREEN ISLE 136
moonlight, I was overtaken by a guide she had sent after me on
This proved to be none other than Miss Hilary Thompson, the
captain's daughter. She hopped off her steed and (to explain
myself in a gruff way) was a welcome adjunct to the moonlight
walk. I had never heard of a girl named Hilary before; she had
a charm and humor that well suited the pretty oddness of the
name. As for Americans, they are not commonly met with on
the Caymanian roads. Thus, as we trudged ahead through moon-
cast shadows of naseberry and shaddock trees, or past paddocks
where cattle munched in the moonlit guinea grass, we had reason
to look upon each other as beings out of the ordinary.
The captain we found with his shoes off. The night was hot,
and long years of command have accustomed him to independence
of the world's opinion. Dinner, too, was not turtle but fish. But we
talked turtle, as is inevitable in Cayman, after we had argued out
the probable fate of the British Empire. And then no less in-
evitably on that island we talked postage stamps. Miss Hilary, at
the magic words, fetched down her album.
On the subject of postage stamps I am not really batty. When
aged twelve I had an album with G. Smith, the Stamping Man in
large letters on the flyleaf, and pasted in it as many kings, queens,
and presidents as I could get for nothing. To this day, in fact, I
enjoy inserting the bright bits of paper which innocent fun, so
Max Beerbohm says, is the basis of the philatelic frenzy. But
luckily I have gone no farther, nor has Miss Hilary. To her and
her father, however, stamps mean more than they can to me,
because they are Cayman Islanders.
To the Caymanians, a new series of island stamps is as great a
matter of anxiety as a college revue is to the club that gives it.
Heaven be propitious! will it, will it be a hit? In these obscure
places where stamps bought for actual use are few, the big post
office customers are the dealers of the outside world, and the
137 TURTLES AND POSTAGE STAMPS
million collectors for whom they buy. In 1937, for example
the year of my visit these helpful foreigners, spontaneously and
without a hint of growling, paid two thirds of island government
expenses. The gay-hued pictures of conchs and catboats, booby
birds, and turtles, had taken the small boys' and the old boys' eyes
the wide world over. No dealer could get enough of them. No hot
cakes ever sold faster.
The chief business in a Caymanian post office, thus, is the post-
marking of empty envelopes plastered with these philatelic hot
cakes. The postmaster of Georgetown spoke with a sigh of the
forthcoming coronation series, and of how on the day of issue he
would have a hundred and thirty thousand stamps to postmark
legibly with that historic date. All bogus mail, too, as usual At
Cayman Brae a bottle of liniment stood on the shelf ready for
the same ordeal's cramps and pains; and after it, the Thompsons
both agreed, the staff would certainly deserve to be treated to a
midnight turtle supper.
These Arcadian fiscal wonders set a bee to buzzing in my cap.
Here was an easy and harmless means of financing my island. No
stamps would spot the world's albums with gaudier reds and blues
than mine, and for an added lure why not issue a series of bath-
ing beauties? A nude or two, such as the Spanish Republic risked,
no doubt would keep the higher denominations "moving" . . .
But thought so guilty mantled me in a blush. Luckily the moon-
light did not reveal this: we had come out to inspect Miss Hilary's
garden, with a flashlight to give her roses their daylight colors
one by one. She grew balsams, too, gayer than the penny-ha'penny
stamps that are the islands' gayest. Then alone on the white road
again, resolving to send off a bushel of post cards, each with that
rarity on it, an actually used Cayman Islands stamp, I tramped
back to town.
On the "next Cimboco" the bushel and I sailed off together to
the outside world The mail boat's chief cargo was not postage
MANY A GREEN ISLE 138
stamps, however, but turtles. Two hundred and twelve of them
there were, broader than washtubs, making the trip to Kingston
What a smell! sickly sweet, as if designed to give the Cayman-
ian women passengers new seasick pangs to boast of. As for
myself, the safest place aboard was well forward where the breeze
blew fresh. Stretched out on a heap of sail there, with the gold
teeth of a sailor flashing over me as he talked contemptuously of
the turtles of Galapagos and Costa Rica which are caught
ashore, lean from the laying of their eggs I could look down
the hatch at ours, netted at sea while fat and luscious. Tier on
tier they lay, all upside down. With their pale front flippers
crossed in resignation on their pale bosoms, they looked like a
sleeping ward of lawn-sleeved bishops.
At Kingston, however, where they were hoisted up, weighed,
and transshipped in a great hurry to turtle-hungry London and
New York, this air of resignation was cast off. Our bishops hissed,
snapped their jaws, and brandished their hind flippers in an awful
fashion. The future they had a right to dread, Their present dis-
comfort no onlooker could but commiserate.
All the same, they were being treated with more consideration
than I was, in a way, or those dear articles of isknd commerce,
the postage stamps. While we (apologetically) were kept waiting,
they went ashore, two hundred and twelve strong, one at a time.
The Caymanians value their postal receipts, and love nothing
better than welcoming visitors to their islands. But business is
business after all, and turtles are turtles.
I HATS THE DEAD MANS CHEST OUT
there/' said Melby, "mentioned in Treasure Island.' 9
Several people had pointed it out already; however, I gazed
with interest at this coffin-like Caja de Muertos projecting from
the sea. "It used to be a puzzle/' I sighed, "to imagine how fifteen
men could sit on one man's chest. I thought it meant his bosom.
But your island here is big enough to hold even more marooned
pirates than that."
" Drink and the devil had done for the rest,' " chanted Melby
over the roar of the wheels: it was payday in the great sugar
district on the south coast of Puerto Rico, and this was the pay
car, a Ford with steel wheels to ride the railroad tracks.
To the north the mountains, green and tawny, slowly moved
past us; to the south the blue Caribbean did the same. Between,
and with our rails down the middle of it, was irrigated cane land;
now and again we passed a disused sugar mill, its pipes and boilers
exposed like an anatomical exhibit, or more rarely the tall chim-
neys and huge bulk of a central that had supplanted these earlier
units. But our business was not with the mills. Melby was paying
the right-of-way maintenance crews, road crews, and ditch
Periodically we would stop for the purpose. The roar of the
wheels would lessen; quiet would descend about us on the cany
MANY A GREEN ISLE 140
landscape. This gave my host a chance to say something without
straining his voice, and so I heard how the ditch cleaners some-
times trod on snails and cut themselves, or perhaps it would be
the children swimming in the canals. Result: elephantiasis, with
arm or leg swollen as stiff as a fence post. "They will do it," he
And having got on the topic of unreasonableness, Melby went
on to tell how the laborers celebrate their release from toil joy-
ously when the cane-grinding season ends. "You'd think they'd
celebrate the beginning of it!" he protested, " they need their
wages bad enough!" He was a Yankee, which made such remarks
seem more natural than the glib Spanish occasionally unloosed
for the benefit of his assistant on the back seat.
But the striking thing about that morning's talk was what it
failed to include. The general silence was only deepened by it.
Mute as fish the laborers would drop their tools, assemble, and
take the cash doled out by the little less mute assistant. If neces-
sary, a question was put or a report was made. Then Melby
would start his car, and while the men looked at the good Amer-
ican money in their hands we rolled away.
After one such frolic, as I was about to ask if nobody knew
any jokes, Melby shouted an inquiry: So-and-so, the week before,
had been stung by a centipede was he feeling all right again?
This specimen of humanity seemed hopeful. "In Jamaica, a
while back," I ventured, "I stayed at a plantation, and when we
went riding the darkys would skip to open a gate if they saw us
coming. But here, the other .night when the superintendent was
showing me around, the men lounging beside a gate let me hop out
to open it. It seemed surprising."
"You don't understand," said Melby. "These little brown fel-
lows are American citizens and our equals. Why abase themselves
before their boss?"
141 EASY MONEY
"But don't they like him?" I persisted. "I like him so much.
Or doesn't he like them? Is that what's the matter?"
" 'How's the wife and kids, my man?! is that what you think
we need?" countered Melby. "Holy Christopher! and with such
an army! "
"Well, somebody should try to tell the privates apart, no
matter how big the army," I barked. "Napoleon did pretty well
with his/' For all their hurry, the paymasters in my own experi-
ence had managed to infuse payday with sociability, and layoffs
with some regret. "And how about it," I went on, "have you
made any safe bathing places in these shack villages we've been
seeing, to keep the kids out of the canals?"
As it happened, however, (I'm glad to say) the query did not
occur to me then, nor even when the two of us dived into the
sky-blue pool reserved for the central's executives. We parted in
amity. Two nights later it was that I tossed in bed hour after
hour, reducing him to a pulp with imaginary sharp talk of the
kind. This was in Ponce, after I had strayed into the slums that
environ the old aqueduct.
Ponce, like most cities, has two faces. Its plaza is as agreeable
a civic center as heart could wish. One end of it is open and tree-
ringed for fiesta booths, band concerts, and poetry recitations.
The other is a maze of bosky paths, with benches, fountains
asquirt, and statuary a place made for more private music and
poetry of the handholding sort. Between, and pleasant too, is the
cathedral; with a stagelike fire barn built against its back, in which
the red-shirted bomberos entertain lady friends of an evening
while the adjoining cafes pour out Cuban rumbas.
What took my eye most, however, was the high school young-
sters who streamed by in the afternoons. They were beings of
A benign decree had put all the girls in honey-colored shirt-
waists and brown pleated skirts, which simplicity brought out
MANY A GREEN ISLE 142
the gracefulness of their carriage and the brunette fineness of their
complexion. The wide smooth brows of those Ponce girls, be-
tween hair brushed back in lustrous dark wave above and large
dark eyes below, were made, obviously, to be kissed. As for the
boys, they looked ready to enjoy the treat downy-moustached,
flex-jointed, prankish Latins.
Shantytown was another study.
For a sample household, here was one in a piano crate that had
been pieced out ingeniously with the bottoms from several old
tubs. Under the roof hung a row of small dresses, brand-new
and all alike the kind bought in the North, as shoppers brag,
for next to nothing. The housewife was making one more as fast
as she could, while her own daughters, not much larger than the
American tots she was sewing for, climbed the hill cheerfully in
shirttails, with tins of water on their heads.
Not that Puerto Rican needlework is to be shunned as the
produce of scenes of squalor. Much of it comes from the con-
vents and new-built factories. And if the chief marvel of shanty-
town^ part of it is its cheapness, the second is the cleanliness that
is somehow .maintained. Straining her eyes out at work after sun-
set, the seamstress still has energy to keep the pig and chickens
where they belong and to cleanse the premises with water fetched
But the hard thing about hard bargains is, that what we gain
by them somebody else must lose: here was a proverb soon
worded while I tossed in bed after a too-good late supper of
Mallorquine spinach pie, with nuts, meat cubes, and raisins in it.
God bless the Hotel Melia's cook and his recipes from kitchen-
wise Mallorca! The plutocrat with the bellyache blamed not him
nor them for his insomnia, but lavished his ire on Melby. I felt
for the exploited ones of the isles. And like a pageant through
the mosquito net, the story of their exploitation passed fitfully, to
illustrate the harangue with which I nonplussed my poor absent
For wealth was what Columbus had come for, and sure enough,
a little gold was found in Santo Domingo for a preliminary delu-
sion. The first New World news was of gums and spices, nuggets
big enough to roast a pig in, and the pearls of Cubagua also of a
ready supply of naked and submissive natives for miners, divers,
With such word flying from tongue to tongue, the West Indies
became the original Wild West. Earth's dread outmost bound,
the Atlantic, suddenly beckoned like the road to riches. For the
type of adventurer that packed off at once, Balboa will do: to
reach his peak in Darien and immortality, but first and foremost
to elude his creditors, he absconded from Santo Domingo as a
stowaway in a barrel.
But the New World was by no means immediately profitable.
Columbus's "chewing gum" proved not to be mastic after all.
Pineapples, the first American produce to ravish the palate of
Europeans, could not be shipped. As for minerals, the island
resource of gold was meager; coarse metals such as the iron of
Daiquiri in Cuba could be had more easily at home. The asphalt
of Trinidad had to wait for Sir Walter Raleigh for a discoverer;
and the petroleum that makes the same island a chief source of
all-British oil was a blessing even less appreciated than chewing
gum four centuries ago.
Kong Ferdinand, meanwhile, was pinched for funds. The recent
expulsion from his country of the Moors and Jews, despiite the
MANY A GREEN ISLE 144
confiscation of wealth that had made it seem so happy an idea,
had lost for him his best taxable and wealth producing groups.
The outstanding citizens now were veterans, harping on what
was owed them for their part in the Moorish wars. If the New
World was poor in quick profits, at least it was rich in land: to
the pests, if they would take it, he gave estates in Hispaniola,
Cuba, Puerto Rico, or Jamaica, meted out by the montdn.
The monton was a cassava hill, as if we should measure farms
by the potato hill; an estate of 100,000 montones, called a peonia,
was the portion of an infantryman or peon from the name of
which type of estate our word "peon" is re-derived. The first
peons were the natives of Hispaniola, for the king kindly be-
stowed with each grant of land the Indians needed for its cultiva-
To the islanders all this must have been perplexing and hateful,
as I pointed out to Melby; capitalism was installed suddenly with
them as the base. After the communal life, with labor shared and
fitted to primary needs only, it was killing to be set to the drudgery
of creating cash wealth for others. And killed they were, actually,
by the process.
So perished the Arawaks of the Greater Antilles, while I rolled
over once more and turned the pillows hot side down. The Caribs
by trouncing Ponce de Le6n in Guadeloupe earned a final cen-
tury of the old ways for their Lesser Antilles; but the Bahamian
natives, Columbus's committee of welcome, were enslaved and
exterminated in entirety. I treated Melby to several gruesome in-
But presently, in those old days, when Mexico and Peru turned
out to be the bonanzas for which everybody had been looking,
Spain's interest in her islands, as Max Beerbohm would say, de-
clined by leaps and bounds. They were left to wallow in neglect.
Various lessons had been learned there, to be sure, during the
first lively years for example, the delights of tobacco. Sugar, a
145 EASY MONEY
luxury formerly very rare (honey had been the world's sweeten-
ing) , was found to grow at a touch, almost, in these benign tropics.
At the touch, that is, of forced labor*
Spain herself, meanwhile, purse bursting with easy money, no
longer bothered to be productive. The rich can always afford to
buy. But it is hard to stay rich, and presently Spain was not doing
so. As through a millrace her money drained off to the Northern
powers, her purveyors and brokers. By the middle of the seven-
teenth century, in fact, England, France, and Holland were ripe
to invest in colonial ventures of their own. Impudently they grew
sugar, indigo, and tobacco on the smaller of Spain's West Indian
islands, and encouraged the buccaneers to throttle her transoceanic
Poor Puerto Rico, in consequence of all this, was all but cut off
from the mother country. Those colonials who had not pulled up
stakes, the Indians still remaining, and slaves escaped from the
mercantile break-back of St. Thomas, had to work put their own
insular salvation. And while they were at it, in long-enforced
privacy, they began to merge into what has become a people
singularly homogeneous, to judge by New World standards.
Here guitar music from the street stole up to give their identity
deeper meaning. The faces of the Ponce schoolgirls haunted my
mosquito net, and another girl's seen dimly on the Yauco road: a
heart-of-man vine poured down its scent from the eaves over her
head, while her sweetheart, jaunty in a new straw hat, leaned on
the gate to thrum his guitar and sing in half-voice as this late
stroller was singing now.
A poor shack that had been, as usual, with tree frogs chirping
their clear octaves in its loops of vines. And here the face of the
aqueduct seamstress haunted me instead, and her bravely make-
shift house; I saw the merry brown tots being put to sleep four
in a bed in rickety La Perla, and Melby's ditch crews looking at
* One large island, Jamaica, was seized by England in Cromwell's time. Admiral
Penn, Pepyrc friend and William's father, was the hero of the raid.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 146
their money. Whereupon, of course, here we were riding along
in the pay car as before and I continuing the lecture.
For if Spain's methods in the isles were unexemplary, so were
the Northerners'. The Caribs, it was soothing to remind Melby
never enslaved but soon edged out at least had the comfort of
watching the interlopers kill one another. St. Kitts, for one fertile
island, changed hands in so many patriotic cat-and-dog fights that
the monotony of the story sets a man to yawning. Tobago was
even held on occasion by the Baltic Latvians.
But in spite of these acrimonies and butcheries and hauling up
and down of flags, sugar made Frenchmen and Englishmen mil-
lionaires. The stateliest of Dutch mansions were founded on
tobacco profits; on the slave trade Liverpool and Bordeaux grew
great and rich.
The North-held islands, in fact, were such money-makers that
at the end of the Seven Years' War it was a study for Britain to
decide whether she should take Guadeloupe or Canada for her
spoils. Benjamin Franklin urged Canada, and such was finally the
choice; which loss the French accepted with a shrug. "A few
acres of snow," Voltaire called the place; whereas Guadeloupe,
saved for France, brought in solid sugar profits and beans from
that rich orchid, the vanilla.
But the great value of the Northerners' West Indies faded at
the terrible news that sugar could be extracted from a beet. Island
economy had to adjust itself to a low or at best an ordinary income.
Only mainland abnormalities revive the old fabulous earning
power Venezuela's political freaks, for instance, which have
made it prudent to refine that country's oil in Curasao and Aruba;
or Prohibition; or some World War or other to boost sugar's
But here about me while I stared into the top of the mosquito
net, the old order seemed still to be in force. Puerto Rico, and
Cuba like it, had come to commercial eminence a century later
than the other islands. Until the Spanish-American War the
147 EASY MO
North had not had much chance to bring in progress. These
sugar lands were being worked under the expert eye of outsiders
who had come down not to live but to earn. The profits too, and
the product, were destined for outsiders mainly.
That these people were a fine lot and used their money well,
who could be readier to grant than I? They were of my own
class and country. But the planters of the old regime likewise
thought kindly of themselves. Slavery seemed natural or even
scriptural to them, as our systems seem moral and natural to us.
The test was, perhaps that is, for me (and here my reflections
started to dissolve and presently I went to sleep) should my
island's economy be up-to-date, with some wages at least in every-
body's pocket, or was old slavery the thing at its mellowest, of
course, as in an operetta? Postal sales might pay for such luxuries
as books and lamp oil, but real work would have to be done by
somebody, to provide shelter and good food. Perhaps Blue Hole's
kind landlord-tenant relationship was the ticket, with its invidious
distinctions in my favor. Or maybe not. For the memory of
peasant-owned places now came to mind, Tortola, Carriacou,
Calabash Bay, and the like toilsome, poor, nobody's bonanza
and the feeling of happiness that came with it made me suspect
that they were happiest of any.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 148
But it is hard to define the base on which happiness is most
secure. People well-off according to my notion frequently repine,
whereas others entitled to grumble radiate good cheer. Certainly
the bus load of poor Puerto Ricans with whom I rode across the
island to Arecibo next morning was full of fun. The conductor's
shirt-tail got pulled out, he rumpled the passengers' hair in venge-
ance, and rang up fares in fancy rhythms.
Even if we had begun the trip unsociably its thrills would soon
have thawed all reserve. Puerto Rico's road system is the West
Indies* most complete, and from the trees that beautify it, mile
on mile, bus riders are very often bounced to eternal bliss. Crosses
are nailed up for a memorial to these events, and as they flashed
by I realized how cheap life is in overcrowded places. Or perhaps
our driver depended too much on a holy medal, glued piously on
the windshield. From an S-curve ahead in the mountain road his
attention wandered to the lunch pail at his feet: what had wifey
prepared this time for his noon surprise?
The inquiry was cut short by a screech from the women passen-
gers. On two wheels we were skirting eternity's deep brink. "Mi
madre!" he prayed, wrenching away from that peril into the path
of another bus roaring down upon us from uphill. But, the devil
take it! now the pail lid was in danger of rolling out. Should he
save it or save us all?
By a miracle he did both. As the busses passed each other on
die wrong side, a terrific eddy of air turned up every turned-down
hatbrim. It was very comical.
"I was in an auto accident once in Maine," said the man beside
me, turning his hatbrim down again. He was a Mallorquine, but
had gone to Maine to open a shoe factory and get rich. The win-
ters and the New England conscience had proved gruelling, how-
ever; there was the accident and finally a bankruptcy. In a word,
he had settled in Puerto Rico to sell shoes made by someone else.
149 EASY MONEY
"And sales are pretty good, too," he beamed. It was a place with
"In Anguilla, now . . ." he went on, which made me prick up
my ears: here was an island I had not managed to visit. But he
had a grudge against Anguilla. It was the reverse of Puerto Rico,
poor in cash. The people fished and grew yams; the only wages
in anybody's pocket were earned by transients who went else-
where for them.
"Too much barefoot!" he complained. "However, I go over
about once a year. A man over there is a friend of mine. He likes
Anguilla and don't worry how many buttons are off his pants.
'Slick up!' I used to tell him, 'you're getting seedy/ 'Well,' he'd
say, 'when I have a wife she'll keep me neat.' And what should
he do one day but get engaged. She was a high-class young Boston
lady; life, now, was going to be very different. But while he was
impatiently waiting for his bride at St. Kitts, all at once he married
an island girl instead, as if he had guessed that he didn't want his
life changed so much after all, and needed a safeguard in a hurry.
Of course he radioed the young Boston lady and told her not to
bother to get off the ship, but she did anyhow, for the afternoon;
she borrowed a machete to cut up the wedding cake she had
brought, covered with truelove knots and cupids, and made a great
show of handing the pieces around to the foreshore bums. What
"Never trifle with a Boston girl," I smirked, like a burnt child
who knows all about fires. Overhead on the mountain slope the
coffee bushes looked to be freshly dipped in wax as usual, and the
sword plants in the mountaineers' dooryards were decked out
curiously with blown eggshells, leaf by leaf.
"There you have it!" Senor Guasp exclaimed. "In Anguilla it
is yams and peas; in Puerto Rico eggshells put out for a garden.
These people here buy what they eat, rice and beans and codfish.
They keep cash in circulation and a salesman has a chance to pick
MANY A GREEN ISLE 150
some up. But look ahead, now!" he cried; "A noble view of my
new home city!" for beyond the plain's green cane fields and the
loops of a loitering river, stood Arecibo, solid-built on a tongue
of higher ground by the sea.
"You will stay at the Grand," said Senor Guasp dogmatically
as we rode into town. "We do not have a cook from Mallorca
there, alas, and the waiters join us in our table talk and help them-
selves to toothpicks; but you will get your fill of good Puerto
Lunch was indeed a prodigy. Item one in it was a sopa de sub-
stancia^ next came two soft-boiled eggs; third, codfish fritters,
and minute-fish fried with an astute touch of garlic. The entree
course was very extensive: beefsteak and onions with braised
potatoes and side dishes of pink yam, white peas, boiled plantain,
hominy cakes, cabbage seasoned with sausage slices, and a gen-
erous salad. When a half fried chicken followed this, I gave Senor
Guasp what must have been a speaking look: he burst into an
explosion of laughter and wagging his finger fanwise, cried, "My
young friend, the heart of a real Puerto Rican lunch is yet to
come!" And sure enough, the "rice-and-beans" was brought in
Having kept up thus far, Mr. Stuffing resolved to fight through
to the end. Seizing the ladle I heaped red beans and sauce on my
heap of rice, poured olive oil recklessly over all, and stirred. And
into me the excellent mixture went, on top of the chicken, the
beefsteak, the fish, the eggs, and the soup of substance. Then
from the kitchen, where a red brick stove loomed altar-like,
Juancho came on the skip with a slab of egg custard in a lake of
syrup. I ate that too and drank my coffee.
Supper did not quite rival lunch; still, it was a cornucopia of
victuals. After the coffee Senor Guasp helped me to rise and led
me out to stroll the plaza like a good Latin.
"Rice-and-beans," he mused, lighting a cigar, ". . . there is
the national dish. And in Santo Domingo too. Not everybody
eats at the Grand; for the poor, rice-and-beans makes the whole
meal. It starves the island. But the annatto they use to color the
rice, like their fathers used saffron in Spain, is full of the vita-
mins they need the worst. God is kind, giving them medicine
when they think they are just making their rice more pretty."
There was nothing for it; I had to belch.
"A great future for West Indian annatto!" cried Senor Guasp,
unperturbed, and paused to lose himself in the grandeur of his
vision. "As good as cod-liver oil, but no taste. . . . My, oh my!"
he went on in a sorrowful whisper, "if I had not been born too
soon to promote it!" And touching the finger tips of one hand
to his lips, he seemed to draw out a lost promise of things inexpres-
Then remembering opportunities missed because he was born
too late, "Or think of the money made here, in the old times, in
pockwood!" he exclaimed. "Magnificent!" And while the chil-
dren on roller skates screamed about us and the Chiclet sellers
chanted their sad evening cries, he instructed me in a matter about
which I knew as much as he did: how the great pox that swept
like a prairie fire through Europe after Columbus's first voyage,
was assumed to have been brought back by his sailors;* and the
cure was thought to have been found in West Indian pockwood,
that is, lignum vitae. In Tortola I had visited an estate called
Pockwood Pond, where iron-hard stumps still clung to the soil
for a monument to the syphilitics' old delusion.
"Worthless!" Senor Guasp went on, blowing a blast of cigar
smoke. "Yet it made people rich! Money came easy in the islands
once. Think what the women could get from one pirate in one
night! What a privilege! But nobody makes money Eke that now,
* This question is still moot. But the defense of America has been undertaken by
R. C. Holcomb, Capt. Med. Corps U.S.N. (retired) with (to my mind) dazzling
scholarship and success.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 152
here; no, not even your sugar friends. It's a penny at a time, not
barrels of gold; business is good if they just come in steady."
But my brain, sluggish with too much feeding,- had not got
back yet from Pockwood Pond. This talk of island earnings re-
minded me of an account book shown me by a Tortola man. The
poetry entered first in it was what Captain Norman had wanted
me to see; but his ballads of shipwreck and haunted hills led on
into lists of rosin and lanyards, cases of brandy fetched from
St. Kitts, fish, mahogany card tables, and sums "Loaned to X to
pay to someone" the business records of a sloop humbly plying
back channels from which white-man enterprise long since had
"Just like Anguilla!" cried Senor Guasp. "No place for a sales-
man! Since the white people moved out, who puts any money
in their pants? In Tortola your big-shot captain wears overalls,
It was true. And my tale of the cane grinding at Newtown mill
made him shrug with still more eloquence. The conch-shell blow-
ing to celebrate labor's end there, was as absurd to him as the
parallel doings in Puerto Rico were to Melby. There seemed
small point in arguing that in the Golden Age, the tritons had
blown exactly such shell toots and boops as these without thought
of pay checks or even the pants to put pay in.
Yes, softhead that I am, when Captain Norman took me to
Peters Island in the Pelicanus, and the millhands' shell music fol-
lowed us across, it only occurred to me to admire its cheapness.
The instruments used cost no more than the wind to blow them
or the wind that so steadily filled our sails.
As for the Peters Islanders into whose world we thus antiquely
sailed, they too lived near the beginning place of human endeavor,
grubbing the ground a little, taking God's bounty from the sea
in nets, or sitting dreamily on their cabin thresholds. From over
their heads the oleanders poured down a drowsy scent that after-
153 EASY MONEY
noon; laughter was quiet, smiles slow-coming as if deep from
within, white skirts drooped in simple folds, old hands were folded
over old knees.
But when the bonito fish run, as they did in the Bight that day,
and the hill watcher calls down his signal, the islanders wake to
action like a carved frieze come to life. The women and men alike
take places at the lines, the children beat the shallows on either
side, and steadily the net is drawn in, against a weight of brine
and fish that my helping hand very soon learned was heavy.
"Old time ways of doing things," sighed Captain Norman,
while he showed me the path to Dead Man's Bay. "Old as
Egypt. . . . Always bonito in the Bight, here, plenty, plenty:
an up-to-date fishery could make some money."
"But the bonito," I faltered, "could they stand it? Which do
these people need more, cash or fish?"
"We live happy," replied the captain, "happy and long"; and
his overalls flapped in the dune wind as he gazed down to where
the waves came rushing. "But if we're to have more than plain fish
we need money, eh? Maybe a man could dig some up, here:
'Dead Man's Bay' is a pirate name. And that oblong rock out
yonder," he added, "is the Dead Man's Chest you read about in
"But ..." I began; but why expostulate? "There's nothing
I'd enjoy more," I agreed, "than to dig up treasure. And if ever I
have an island of my own," I went on, "I'll bury some, to let the
children find it. For hopscotch playing for little girls, there's
nothing that tosses better than a silver dollar."
By way of comment, when I quoted this fine peroration, Senor
Guasp at first eloquently said nothing. However, "You have the
superior mind and look down on riches," he remarked after we
had made another turn. "The hurry to get rich at other people's
expense is bad, very bad . . * exploitation, as you call it. But,"
he added abruptly, "when you write up your host Mr. Melby in
MANY A GREEN ISLE 154
your book and get pay for doing it, what will he call that kind
"The name can be changed to Jones," I retorted, miffed by
the injustice of his implication; and soon went off to stroll by
myself in a less noisy part of town. Seiior Guasp was a well-
meaning man, but his mercantile point of view was tiresome.
PORTS OF PEACE
CHOUGH NOW AND THEN THE
pigheadedness of mankind puts me in a huff, my nature is essen-
tially pacific. The last fight settled by out-and-out force in Smith
annals took place when I was aged five; on which occasion, for a
decisive quietus, I brought down a train of toy iron railway cars
on my small opponent's head. Bottom up, afterward, and being
spanked with a hairbrush, I learned the bitterness of the fruits of
victory. It was on, you would say, rather than at my mother's
knee that I imbibed those principles that have since guided me in
the more subtly victorious ways of peace.
In these later times, however, when no place is too inoffensive,
useless, or remote to be bombed by the advocates of this or that
brand of political uplift, it is a puzzle to know how to safeguard
an island. All I have done thus far, frankly, toward the defense
of mine, is to hope that it will be overlooked, and to lay by a
white flag for a quick answer to bomb one. Peace, with all its
inconveniences, as William Penn wittily said, is generally prefer-
able to war, and specifically so in this case where heroism wouldn't
be worth a flip.
But small islands have been successfully peaceable in the past;
three such in the West Indies rose to a greatness in the role all
out of proportion to their flyspeck size. Dutch Statia, Danish St.
Thomas, and Swedish St. Barts once made as handsome a good
MANY A GREEN ISLE 156
thing of neutrality in the New World as their parent countries
did in Europe: these "golden rocks" were like the Jews of the
islands in the bonanza years the stable element at the center of
the whirlwind. With sighs of patience and snorts of contempt
they watched the gunfire and bloodshed and swift changes of
flags and governments about them and the Jews and the three
ports alike traded discreetly, international-mindedly, and profit-
ably with all.
Of the three ports, Statia* has the most instructive story. Just
when most useful, its badge of neutrality was nipped off, with
consequences prompt and dismal.
The island itself is a pair of volcanic cones with a saddle of
ragged hill between. One cone is old and shattered, the other an
upstanding youngster. When you come toward them (a Dutch
steamer patriotically does call, ballasted with sea water since there
is never a cargo), the forgotten city on their joint lap is slowly
revealed. Some of the red roofs, to be sure, prove to be blossoming
flamboyant trees, the massive black church tower on the high
cliff edge stands at the head of a roofless ruin, and the quays are
choked in poisonous manchineel. But a city there is, with amiable
dogs of squat Dutch build frisking on the flagstone streets, and
people who celebrate the mail boat's monthly night in port with
The smuggling trade, to the old Spanish mainland whose ports
were closed officially to all but Spanish goods, gave Statia a long
prosperity. But its golden age coincided with our Revolution.
England was at odds with France at the time, as well as with the
colonies: Atlantic shipping was bedeviled. Military stores, how-
ever, as well as civil necessities, could be consigned safely to the
neutral port, to be picked up there by vessels from Philadelphia
or New England. Danger of loss by confiscation was reduced,
* Statia, on maps, is "St. Eustatius," St. Barts is "St. Barthdiemy," but the shorter
names are the ones most generally heard in the islands. The similar nickname "St.
Kitts" (for St. Christopher) has long had official standing.
157 PORTS OF PEACE
say, by half. Little Statia, in fact, was one of the chief arteries
through which the infant republic drew its lifeblood, and if it
grew rich at the mercenary calling, no good American can
Trade was enormous. The shore warehouses bulged with quick-
moving goods. In their black-towered church the Dutch mer-
chants heartily gave thanks for profits received, while the Jews,
in a synagogue a few streets distant, reviewed King Solomon's
sensible maxims, grateful for the opportunity Jehovah had vouch-
safed them of assisting America to win its freedom.
At Statia it was that the "Grand Union" the original, pre-
Betsy Ross American flag was given its first recognition. Flying
this rebel banner, a vessel entered to pick up a cargo of arms,
whereupon Governor de Graef, spyglass to eye in old Fort
Orange, ordered a salute. He was an impetuous soul, who soon
had to be recalled to Amsterdam. For St. Kitts is Statia's very
close neighbor and the British governor there, when he learned
what had been done, first grew purple, then wrote a report that
made London no less apoplectic. And not yet, in 1776, was
Holland ready to abandon the advantageous neutral role.
By 1780, however, Britain had not a friend in sight. The empire
seemed doomed to a speedy dissolution. Now was the time at
which to recognize the United States and in a bold burst Holland
Squash! There was life in the British lion after all: down came
a heavy paw on Statia. Admiral Rodney took the island, but kept
the Dutch flag flying over it as long as it served to lure in enemy
ships. If Fort Orange had chosen to honor the rebel flag, its own
could very nicely be put to dishonorable uses.
This was the end of Statia. Its fort still stands and cannon are
still mounted on its palmy ramparts. But they are toys out of a
past age, used by bkck urchins for hobbyhorses. No Dutch
prayers have been said in the Dutch church these many years,
A GREEN ISLE 158
nor has a Jew worn his shawl in the old synagogue * The bush-
choked warehouses from which Rodney sold fifteen million dol-
lars worth of goods, are ruins whose walls the sea slaps derisively.
St. Thomas's story is more of a comfort. The two and a half
centuries of its Danish rule were marked by a consistent and well-
The brightest chapter came in the era of the privateers. Here
was one port where ships seized and merchandise confiscated
found a market with no questions asked. Like Statia, it also served
the smugglers and American patriots as an important depot of
supply. In fact it was anybody's port to use, a free port, a neutral
port, and as cosmopolitan, crowded, and active a port as the
world of those days had to show.
So long-continuing a role has given the place a character. Busi-
ness is its business. If it were not for the French recent comers
from St. Barts the tall-hatted fishermen of 'Cha Cha Town and
*The Tews resettled in St. Thomas for the most part. Outcasts from the Spanish
peninsula, the West Indian Jews were the truest colonists in the Northheld islands,
regarding the new home not merely as a place in which to gain wealth but as home
indeed. Their civic usefulness in the British islands, when relieved of their old dis-
abilities in one pinch or another, was so patent that it was a strong point in the
winning of similar rights for the Jews of England.
159 PORTS OF PEACE
the gardeners of Mafolie every mouthful of food eaten on the
island would have to be imported.
As for shrewdness: "Fm a perfect lady, perfect!" a black crone
told me one day when, our paths coinciding, we walked along
together. Her apron screamed for a washing; her shoes were "cut
down" for ventilation. But the old spirit was in her: "That's what
I am!" she repeated, warming to her secret strategy. "When I
walk along with a gentleman like you I never think of begging.
No, Fm a lady, a poor widow kdy with no children to give me
help; and the sickness closes up my stomach. God help me! what
I suffer! But there's no good begging of a gentleman: if he is a
real gentleman and has a heart of kindness, he'll see my need with-
out my asking and put his hand in his pocket just like you got
yours now. But if his heart is a stone and he is not a real gentleman,
he won't bring up nothing for all you beg him. And so because I
am a perfect lady I just don't mention these things to a gentleman
but put my trust in the Lord."
It was a masterpiece of "presentation" from the old traders'
capital. And for a Scandinavian touch, the little dog that scam-
pered ahead of us was named Frithjof .
St. Thomas in its great days likewise developed a character in
its architecture. Charlotte Amalie was built as a business city
strictly, conveniently compact. For gardens there was little room,
but the Spanish trick of gardening in tubs and flowerpots has
brought gaiety to the picturesque and crowded groups of build-
ings. Like its cemetery inscriptions, which would tax the knowl-
edge of a Berlitz, the elements that make the St. Thomian style
are of all nations. Spanish shop doors, French galleries, English
panelings, and the Dutch-Scandinavian baroque of pudgy pilasters
and curved masonry stairs, bit by bit were combined to form it.
Luckily, after the style was set and had pervaded the city,
prosperity receded enough to let the beauty of the place stand
undisturbed. If Venice, say, had gone on being the Mistress of
MANY A GREEN ISLE 160
the Sea forever, most of its palaces on which we now rapturously
feast our eyes would have been pulled down to make room for
structures more up-to-date. So with Charlotte Amalie. But the
two ports had been rich enough long enough, before having to
adjust themselves to more frugal ways, to breed families deep-
rooted, substantial, and conservative, that would not let them fall
St. Thomas's city, in fact, is one of the world's most charming.
While I was footing the hill roads above it to look down on its
white-shining masonry and strawberry and cherry roofs, with the
clear green of the mahoganies in clumps and avenues, I was joined
by an elderly string-bass player out on the same errand. He had
.never traveled much, he said, but was fond of boats, and some
globe-trotting yachtsman friend had told him that St. Thomas
was the prettiest spot on earth. So heaven being his not-distant
destination, it had occurred to him that it would be interesting to
compare the Heavenly City with earth's best; whereupon before
it was too late he put his bull fiddle in the closet and came down
to take a look.
Although he knew he would go back to his grandchildren and
his fiddling in three weeks, he was enjoying a fit of indecision as
to how best to spend the rest of his life on the island. Now that
we were on the hill, he wanted a breezy hilltop house and began
to select sites for it on various eminences. But when he looked
back at the harbor, or down at Magens Bay, or off to Hans Lollik
Island and the multitude of others grouped away toward the
British Virgins, he fell in love with the idea of living in a boat,
and smoking his pipe in one turquoise anchorage after another.
And then when we came down into the top hill lanes of the city,
he found house after house that was his very heart's desire.
"It would be more sociable," he explained. And indeed it was
easy to picture a trio of silver-thatched cronies with cellos and
violins under their arms, climbing the steps across some flagged
l6l PORTS OF PEACE
gutter and turning in at a gate with the bust of Orpheus in white
marble over it, for a long, happy, earnest bout of music making.
At night I met him again, standing under the windows of
Bethania Hall, where a prayer meeting was in progress. Joining
the hymn in a private hum and gazing up to where the choir's
black heads were bent, he gave me an absent-minded handshake.
" 'How lovely are Thy dwelling places!' " he remarked after the
amen, blowing his nose in a big handkerchief. It was a moonlit
night and the date palm leaning around the corner of the plain
old building cast a biblical shadow down the wall.
Choir music was something I was enjoying myself, as usual, in
St. Thomas. On practice nights I was sure to be in one church or
another, applauding the struggle silently from a dark corner pew.
The Moravians' music was loud and light-operatic; the black
young ladies in their floppy white hats, dulcedy choired to the
peals of that confectioner's dream, the cream-and-gold pipe organ.
The Lutherans' taste, on the other hand, tended toward the strict.
Their church, in fact, is one of the most dignified in the Antilles.
In its middle hangs a ponderous antique iron chandelier, from
whose scrolls and curling foliage protrude a dozen mermaid-
angels, lighting the faithful with their lamps the earnest singers,
the fastidious colored organist, and the black boy who pumps the
bellows: I see that boy now, loose-necked, heavenward-looking,
falling back to bring his full weight on the lever.
In 1672 when the Danes came to St. Thomas and Lutheran
hymns first were sung there, they were sung in the fort. Absence
from divine worship in those days entailed a fine of twenty-five
pounds of tobacco. The fort, indeed, for many years did duty as
a church a humorous sort of little castle, painted red, as if the
prayers said in it and that courageous color were all the colony
needed for protection. Nor was the combination ineffectual. St.
Thomas was a port of peace; there was no point in converting it
into a fortress like closed-port San Juan.
MANY A GREEN ISLE
The Danes, in fact, seemed to have the knack of making their
West Indian forces effective, not by virtue of being dreaded but
of being popular. Like the genial much dressed-up policeman who
will give dignity to my island, meet boats, and blow the sunset
bugle, they were everybody's pet. Uniforms were perfect for
ballroom display, and the soldiers' exploits were of the human
rather than the inhuman kind.
For example, one sergeant on a trip to Denmark won the
National Beer Drinking Contest and returned the island's hero.
And a master-of-ordnance, asked to report why brass cannon in
the West Indian service had so constantly to be replaced, wrote
back, Cockroaches. The last laugh in this piece of fun came when
headquarters stiffly demanded specimens. "For the Copenhagen
Zoo, I fancy," mused the master-of-ordnance, sharpening his quill.
Your Excellencies will understand, he replied, while his brother
officers held their sides, that insects so destructive would make
short work of any container in which we might 'try to forward
them, or even impair the seaworthiness of the ship entrusted with
carrying them to Denmark.
After all, the most useful kind of army for a place like St.
Thomas, whose one wish was to be on good terms with all cus-
tomers, was the convivial, fun-loving kind, well drilled in ball-
A CTTJ S
As for St. Barts, perhaps you are surprised to learn that Sweden
ever formally administered a New World island. But I tell no lie,
she did, from 1784 to 1877. Moreover, this quite forgotten colony
served as a port for vessels by the thousands.
163 PORTS OF PEACE
Like Statia and St. Thomas, St. Barts is one of the tiny isles
flanking the Anegada Passage that exit from the Caribbean that
most directly looks toward Europe. In 1800, thus, when Europe's
sweetness as well as a large part of her coffee, tobacco, cabinet
woods, salt, and dyes, derived from the West Indies, it was near
the New World's commercial hub. But it was a mere eight square
mile scrap of unproductive scenery, far inferior in trade to St.
Thomas, where the stimulus of neutrality had been working for
a hundred years.
At just this juncture, Napoleon, "that little man," unfolded his
arms. The world split, and astounded St. Barts woke to find itself
the sole neutral port of exchange in the Western Hemisphere.
Even Denmark was hauled backward near enough to trouble to
prompt Britain to hold St. Thomas till the fight was over. As for
the United States, technically neutral, its shipping was so harassed
by the war-nervous British that we had to pitch in and fight the
War of 1812. Of all the powers with interests in America, only
Sweden managed to keep free of belligerency. St. Barts's position
Prosperity was instantaneous, meteoric. But when Napoleon
went to St. Helena, St. Barts went to the dogs. Their fortunes
waxed and waned together.
For a symbol of greatness lapsed, the morose skeleton of a great
stoije-built hostelry looms by the harbor mouth with the moon
leering through its glassless windows. The flagstone quays are
steeped in a profound inanimation. But "going to the dogs" is too
harsh a term. St. Barts's dizzy fling was like the one supreme
adventure in a quiet life, that enriches it with anecdote and leaves
an aura of romance around what otherwise might be prosaic.
Over the grass-grown quays the bowsprits still bristle in crowded
rows, if you listen to the stories of the place. "In Swedish
times . . ." the tales begin invariably.
The fine inn of those Swedish times, and their rowdy sailor
MANY A GREEN ISLE 164
taverns, have been supplanted by Madame Guyer's boarding-
house on the Rue Oscar II. "All in the American style!" she
beams, hustling the newcomer to see the bathroom. But it is
American with a difference. No water connects with the familiar
fixtures. As for her American front door, it had been installed
with the night latch "on" when die house was built, which had
proved very unhandy all these years. She could go out but she
could not come in. Trudging around to the back, however, she
had accepted as the American way, until, having released the latch,
I ignorantly overthrew household habit by stepping in with a
Madame was dumbfounded. Not even Neptune, arriving in a
rush of foam, could have made a more pronounced sensation. But
as soon as she was certain of the miracle, in and out she swung,
crying, "My god! my god! it opens from both sides!"
This tall and hospitable lady is descended in part from Swedish
ancestors, and though she knows no Swedish her speech carries in
it the cadence of that tuneful singsong language. But she and her
(generally dark) city neighbors do not dominate the island. The
human debris of a great trading era, they are like people ship-
wrecked long since on an alien shore rooted in it thanks to a
freak of history but not yet really native. St. Barts was French
before its Swedish century and is French again. When the drum
rolls and the town crier reads a proclamation, it is read in St. Barts's
more natural tongue.
But the deeper-rooted countryfolk are after all Scandinavian
in their remote ancestry Norman fishermen and herders. Their
stone-walled lanes and wind-whipped grassy pastures, their neat
stone-terraced gardens, look very odd and pretty on the tropic
isle. The girl who puts you on the right road to Corossol, when
you are walking, is a Norman peasant in starched white sunbonnet
and bright flowered apron; and most unexpected and delightful
she is too, found knitting under a soursop tree.
165 PORTS OF PEACE
Corossol, on its sickle of beach, has no Norman air as a village,
to be sure. The hurricanes have dictated other architecture. "Little
house fall light/' as the Tortola Negroes say. But its doings and its
people are another matter, and their feather beds and the twice
normal-size tambourines that set the rhythm of their music.
In white bonnets every Tuesday the good housewives toil up
a path of leg-breaking steepness to Colombier Church to confess
their sins. Monday, in Corossol, is the day for washing clothes,
Tuesday, the day for souls. The woman who told me had a face
like a clear window into the simple heart.
I tried the penitential path myself a staircase of gully boul-
ders. For all its heat, the tamarinds cast a welcome shade across it
and the banks on either hand quivered with the motion of gold
Beyond the church I climbed still farther, up and around the
mountain by circuitous wind-blown lanes, to say good-by to Des
Cayes, azure Baie de St. Jean, and Pointe de Lorient with its bands
of colored rock slanting from the surf. Here, these days past, I
had swum and clambered and greedily wolfed cactus-radishes;
watched the casting of nets and the plaiting of high-crowned
Cha Cha hats, and been nudged in the ribs and poured full of
Norman wit as full, that is to say, as my own shallow linguistic
wit permitted. "The man with shoes on travels the whole world
through," I had been told, with a friendly push, and understood
it: in St. Barts the shod man is the man with money. But these
names of villages and bays and headlands have little meaning.
Nobody goes to St. Barts to remember the pocket-sized grandeurs
of that most nearly perfect of small islands. Nobody has, that is,
since Napoleonic times.
As a matter of fact, visiting the place is not especially easy.
I went over in a schooner from Marigot, itself a port not vulgarly
accessible; then came away to Philipsburg have you heard of
Philipsburg? in an open boat across sixteen miles of deep-
MANY A GREEK ISLE 166
chasmed blue Atlantic surges. Neither trip was designed for the
timid, really, though the latter one, thanks to an expert St. Bartian
hand on tiller and sail, was an idyll for a sea-loving mainlander
More hair-raising was the schooner journey. Even the moon
that night, hurtling through the clouds, seemed intent on melo-
drama. When the ship tacked, she reared like a frightened animal,
the sails boomed great guns, and the helmsman, a freckled mulatto
in wooden shoes, bawled orders in gibberish sea French to the
scurrying crew. Goose-fleshy to the soles of my Minnesota feet,
I shivered in a coat.
All the same, these undangerous terrors pleased me. It was like
an approach to St. Barts, or Statia or St. Thomas, in their most
bustling times. No less pleasing was the entry into port: kindly
and slowly the harbor closed about us, as it had about so many
sailing ships in those war-perilous years. The anchor, let go, sent
calm rings of moonlight toward a shore trustfully unawake.
". . . Till morning, Monsieur" said the barelegged mousse,
tugging at my sleeve, and pointed to a doghouse on the af terdeck.
In I rolled, dog tired. And till morning, with mouth organ in one
pocket and swimming trunks in another, I slept such sleep as the
merchants must have known when (safe, too, with their goods)
they came to anchor at last, in the old times, in these same ports
OF CABBAGES AND KINGS
'--- -- - HEN", IN THE ISLES, I HAVE HEARD
music at its most barbarous and husded to see what Danse Congo
was afoot, it has always been a Salvation Army band saving sin-
ners. Or nearly always. In Bridgetown occurred one of the excep-
tional instances when it was something else.
Barbados, as it happened, had had labor riots not long before.
Shopwindows had been broken and gore had been spilt. It is per-
plexing to know how to deal with such unrest, but the method
used in this case had been to raise wages and at the same time to
police the Bridgetown streets with impressive show of force, as
if not one inch had been or would be yielded. Thus, one hot night
it was hair-raising suddenly to hear a tumult of drums from the
maze of shanties beyond Lake's Folly Lane. The shriek of a fife
pierced my ears like a red-hot needle. Could this be a new out-
break of the riots? Heaven protect me! Or was it just salvation's
summons once again?
It was neither. In fact, "It's a Ship," was the strange informa-
tion I got when I stole in and asked. And "Where's the Navi-
gator?" bawled the crowd that sat on doorsteps or sprawled on
Hereupon the Navigator tipped his hat and hopped down from
the high sill of a grocery and salt-fish shop. A kerosene flare had
been nailed on the wall, by whose light the drummers belabored
MANY A GREEN ISLE 168
their instruments like a pair of demons. The gait of the fife player
pulled his trouser legs tight at the knees as he prowled pantherlike
up and down. But there was nothing sinister about the Ship that
soon got into motion: it was a mock military drill.
Both sexes and all ages participated. At the Navigator's com-
mands these black wags marched into the deeper blackness of the
alleyway to left or right; then, stepping high and fancy, back they
would tramp to the yard's dim yellow zone, do squads-right .in
exemplary confusion, and mark time with buttocks wagging to
bring a laugh. Now and again some fat housewife would skip out
of the audience to add her clowning, and one shambling cutup
pretended to be drunk.
Between maneuvers there were cinema love songs, and, for the
finale (there was no bloodshed), "God Save the King." For this
everyone stood serio-comically at the salute. "Ship's done!" then
was the cry, and off we went to our other various amusements.
Such alarms are quite to my taste. I love the martial when it
is directed to a worthy end. The roll of drums that sets the pace
for digging the Haitian fields, the trumpet blasts that give notice
that there are fish for sale these things shall be encouraged on my
island so long as I am Navigator.
But captaining an island can be a headache, as was realized in
Barbados when the pkte glass all down Broad Street was riotously
pushed in. Am I ready for the job, I wonder? What bothers me
most is that my political convictions are so hard to fix.
To the wisdom of the fathers I hesitate to be untrue: more than
ever in these times the heart cleaves to democracy. But must I
confess it? parliamentary procedure kills me dead. For pity's
169 OF CABBAGES AND KINGS
sake, must the Chair call for the minutes under my sea-grape trees?
Besides, a small island such as mine is more like a small tight ship
than the crowd for which democratic processes were invented.
The rule of majorities on shipboard is called mutiny and uni-
Nor do I find the democratic system very efficient in govern-
ing myself. The Old Nick in me, for one member, is a damned
demagogue; and self-interest, usually asleep, usually also awakens
in time to lock idealism in the gents' toilet during a close vote.
And then there is bull-voiced sloth, bellowing for recess. No,
the mailed fist is what I need in my own self-management if prog-
ress is to be made.
It would seem, thus, as if the firm hand might best rule the
isles, a view held by not a few gloomy but sagacious people. A
graybeard king, complete with crown and throne, no doubt would
lend peculiar dignity to our solemner sort of revels. But as for
playing the part myself, God forbid! Between being a cabbage
and a king, let me be the cabbage.
The modern dictators, true enough, no longer strut in royal
fancy dress: perhaps of a morning while brushing my teeth I
could dictate successfully in my underdrawers. But even so, who
would this Smith be to say whether my islanders should use paste
or powder in brushing theirs? And how, the decree once pub-
lished, could I take it seriously enough to turn the boys into
fighting machines and the girls into breeding machines to ensure
its continuing enforcement? No, no, no. When the drums rumble
and the sound of marching comes up the hill, it will be some
widow's corn plot being hoed, as they merrily do these things in
There are books to turn to, of course, for advice on governing
an island. Thomas More's Utopia is one. Utopia's great glory
was the fewness of its laws, which glory will also illumine mine.
Nor will my island's laws be even as detailed as Utopia's. The
MANY A GREEN ISLE 170
streets there were set at twenty feet wide: I do not mean to be
Then, Sancho Panza, with two chapters of wholesome cautions
from his master ringing in his ears, governed his "island" for five
more chapters of Don Quixote, and very witty reading all seven
chapters are. But the deviltry of that island no other could match.
I shall never have the legal puzzles to solve that so puckered poor
Sancho's brow. Through the rich laughter of those court scenes,
however, his philosophy of government can be traced. His notion
of how to run things, was to act as mouthpiece for that inner gov-
ernor, plain common sense.
On such a philosophy Great Britain has succeeded in basing
her colonial rule that is, in small islands like mine, not remark-
able for profits. In Tortola, for one such place, I rested my chin
often on my thumb to admire the civil simplicities about me.
There is a Commissioner in Tortola; he has been there for
years and knows everybody's real estate and worth. He also is
the magistrate, and so has learned all about island tricks and
grudges. Moreover, he is the doctor, with a neat small hospital
to work in, and so has a good means of insight into his people's
private lives. The church he leaves to another man, likewise the
agricultural station: a British official must move in white society,
and these carers for souls and coconuts, together with their wives,
provide it for His Excellency. A tea party can be managed very
As for the few colored officeholders, they go about their tasks
without much fuss. When I strolled up the zinnia-bordered paths
of Road Town Gaol (the gate was open) to chat with the prison-
ers while they cooked their lunch, "All good boys!" the matron
would say, looking affectionately at her charges. By day the
three of them went out to do odd jobs around the town, while
she patched the seats of their other trousers; but on the morning
of my departure they kindly stayed in long enough to wave the
OF CABBAGES AND KINGS
Union Jack, and whoop "Good-by!" seated astride the ridge-
pole of the roof.
Strange to say, Tortola wishes it were under the Stars and
Stripes. A regime so aggressively generous as the American New
Deal in neighboring St. Thomas quite dazzles the islanders. Be-
sides, the British way of letting well enough alone makes the
citizens of such odd pockets feel neglected.
St. Thomas, meanwhile, dreaming of its past prosperity, and
envious of San Juan's huge growth in commerce, wishes it were
Puerto Rico. And Puerto Rico, in turn, looking to the west again
to Cuba and Santo Domingo, wishes it could share their strut-
ting brass-buttoned independence. But Tortola does not wish so
much. The comfort of nestling like a tick in the British lion's
hide it would not exchange willingly for anything but similar
comfort, in a similar warm crease, in the hide of a perhaps juicier
All the same, and even with Sancho Panza sent out for gover-
nor, I would not want my island to play the role of tick. Islands
governed from outside are prone to be thus poor and parasitic;
or, rich in their own resources, to be exploited and feel aggrieved.
And what is the great virtue of islands if it is not that they are
complete in themselves? clear-cut limits make for natural unity,
which is the reason why More set Utopia away from the main-
As for a native insular polity, its West Indian forms were sup-
pressed long since in favor of imported makeshifts. Montaigne
wrote their swan song; he lived while they were dying. Possibly
the primitive systems he praised in his defense Of the Caniballes
looked better from his study in Perigord than they would have
close at hand; the blisses of far-off savagery we essayists are in-
clined to over-rate. And actually, as I must hasten to admit, he
was writing of the Brazilian Indians.
But these Antillean and South American savageries were of a
MANY A GREEN ISLE 172
piece. Besides, his word "Caniballe" was merely one early variant
of "Carib," the Caribs or Caniballes being the first man-eaters
with whom shocked Europe came in contact.* His sonorous
praise of the simplicities of their polity, thus a simplicity parallel
to single-purposed Sparta's fits as well one place as the other.
But though these specialists in war gave the white interlopers tit
for tat as long as they were able, civilization finished them off
at last. Without exception their Caribbees were presently ruled
by the continental powers and still are, though Martinique and
Guadeloupe, as full-fledged departments of France in the era of
pre-1940, took part in framing the laws that then governed all
The Greater Antilles had been cleared still earlier of their
Arawaks, whose organized specialty was ballet dancing. In these
islands self-government in several instances has been resumed,
but it is not again in the hands of dancers. Strong-arm dictators,
good or bad, with an army to bring discipline, make it function
most successfully. Yes, the atmosphere gives a Northern repub-
lican the prickles; it is the old Latin-American course, set with
melancholy sagacity by Franciat and Bolivar long ago, of per-
sonal rule crystallizing order out of disorder.
Being crystallized a little in the process was something the Cold
Spring tombstone man in Cuba and Santo Domingo gradually
* Since it is certain that Shakespeare read Montaigne, and likely that "Caliban**
is an anagram for "Cannibal," Caliban's first speeches in The Tempest (Act I,
scene 2) are curious: with wild eloquence he barks out against the foreign theft of his
old island liberties.
tFrancia, the joyless dictator of Paraguay, 1814-1840, spared his countr the
vastation of the rest of the continent's revolutionar and civil conflic
devastation of the rest of the continent's revolutionary and civil conflicts by
its borders, islandlike, to all commercial intercourse and travel.
173 OF CABBAGES AND KINGS
learned to take. At the cry of "Psst!" I soon was springing into
the air like any Latin and landing to face the direction from
which the warning had come: TLona Militar again! with the usual
twin riflemen pointing the way out with their thumbs.
In Santiago de Cuba one fine night, while the fourteen-ton
Angel of Justice on the cathedral pediment blew her trumpet in
silence over the noisy plaza, I was constrained by the police, in
company with a hundred or so fellow strollers, to stroll counter-
clockwise. It seemed a tiresome extension of the traffic rules.
However, what ruffles the feathers of a dove like me may be
quieting to other birds. In Santiago on another night I shared
in excitements of another kind.
That city's cathedral, next to Santo Domingo's, is the oldest
seat of Church authority in the New World, and in it I attended
Rosary and sermon. It was a Lenten service for some men's or-
ganization; piety prevailed throughout the dim old edifice.
The sermon I could almost follow. Delivered with slow em-
phasis, it seemed designed for a listener who still did not know
much Spanish in spite of all the English lessons he had been giv-
ing. But nothing about it was so emphatic as its end. From a side
aisle a missile was hurled at the pulpit by some catfoot intruder,
which missile, though it shattered harmlessly, killed our com-
posure, and brought the service to a jangling halt.
"While Christ is with me I fear nothing! " bellowed the preacher
to allay the surge of agitation that suddenly rushed forward: what
was in the minds of all of us was those Red-scrawled slogans of
the Santiago streets. Meanwhile, come what would, the Host
had to be exposed and put away according to liturgical formula;
but while the priests were at this, a puff of incense was mistaken
for smoke from a bomb, which set the congregation in a new
Feeling somewhat chilly between the shoulder blades after
these devotions, I went across the way to the plaza and strolled
MANY A GREEN ISLE 174
counterclockwise. Was Cuba too much or too little policed? On
which side of the fence was a liberal to stand?
Earlier, in Havana, I had watched the ovation that greeted
the return to the capital of Cuba's strong man, Batista (then still
merely "Colonel"), and his latest president. To judge the spirit
of these triumphs is not easy, especially in a country whose citi-
zens are naturally festive and live continually in the press of
crowds. It was obvious enough that the impromptu Negro bands
were in action for the fun of it; in rhythms of spontaneous glad-
ness they thumped on snatched-up packing cases, bits of scrap
iron, or their own straw hats. The political clubs, too, marched
with a will.
But the colonel failed to appear in his own parade. It seemed
more prudent to leave the train in the suburbs and drive incon-
spicuously to the presidential palace. His luggage came through
as scheduled, however. With military escort armed to the teeth,
the suitcases provided the majestic climax in a procession made
up for the most part of government pensioners, government em-
ployees, government dump trucks, and government street-clean-
ing equipment. Everything that could be hustled in to swell the
prodigiousness of the demonstration rolled down the Avenida de
Belgica that day. Nor had the American firms doing business in
Cuba omitted to enter their truck fleets in generous entirety.
This great testimony of good will was reviewed from the
roof of the palace porte-cochere where the colonel, finely genial,
had a smile and a personal nod for every dump-truck driver. On
the goddesses of liberty, on floats, he beamed especially. Stand-
ing beside him, the little new president was genial too, though
in an obscurer way. I wished he would take down the handker-
chief that shielded his lips, or take off for a moment the dark
glasses that hid his eyes. But though I had no chance to appraise
die expression of anything but his nose, the gay old city about
175 OF CABBAGES AND KINGS
us had signs of the times written across it, unduly ominous
to a man not used to Latin politics.
"Yes, yes," the Cubans sigh, but then they shrug, and reflect
that countries of far longer experience than theirs are in as hot
or hotter water.
Santo Domingo boasted a half-century start on Cuba, for in-
stance, as a sovereign state, and very bloody was the education in
self-government that the Dominicans acquired while they were at
it. The highest New World mountains east of the main Rocky
and Andean chains are in their wonderful country; it is the scene
of the oldest New World history; of New World ecclesiastics
its archbishop has the most venerable title. In fact Santo Domingo
is a land of superlatives, and the chief of these at the present date
is that island genius, Generalissimo Doctor Rafael Leonidas
Here is a name no visitor is likely to forget. The capital, most
ancient colonial city of the hemisphere, has had the name the
Columbus brothers gave it scrapped in favor of the strong man's
own. For if Constantine the Great rechristened Byzantium in
honor of himself, why should Santo Domingo boggle at a like
event? Ciudad Trujillo "Trujillo City" its name is, till fur-
ther notice and, who knows, the name may stick. The Dominicans
themselves. do not use it much; they say la capital as they prob-
ably always have.
No, the discipline is rather for us in the world outside, ignorant
of the fact though we may be. The generalissimo, an undisputed
titan in his own country, burns to be thought great elsewhere.
In my Monte Cristi hotel there were four pictures of the bene-
factor in the parlor and one of Archimedes. But such notice is
not enough. The four Trujillos glared at the one old Greek who,
among them, was the man with an international reputation.
Happily, Trujillo's fame is growing. Carleton Beals has spread
it in the Sunday supplements with such art as to make the best
MANY A GREEN ISLE 176
of us hesitate to turn out lights at bedtime. In Santo Domingo,
we must believe, the benefactor is under every bed; no whisper
of derogation goes unavenged. He knows all and takes all, or
at least a share; for it is the universal rumor that any profitable
enterprise in his country must be directly profitable to him.
That Beals has nothing but enormities to report does not mean
that the benefactor is not a patriot in the true, if bizarre, Latin
sense, nor indefatigable in furthering Santo Domingo's good as
he sees it. The scaUawag young thief of the Virgin of San Cris-
tobal's jewels has lived to be decorated by the Pope with the
cross of St. Gregory the Great.
As for bridges built and roads made, the tolls may go now
into Trujillian pockets, but the things themselves exist at last for
present and future use. The harbor improvements are the ad-
miration of Caribbean shipping. In the production of that staple,
rice, the Dominicans at last are self-sufficient: Trujillo may grow
it, but the irrigation that I saw brightening the desert valley of
the Yaque del Norte with a water-loving crop, will outlive him,
if the valley people have any gumption. Unbedeviled by thorns,
beggars, and scorpions, at last, the ruins of the palaces and
churches of America's oldest colony display themselves in apple-
pie good order. And as for peace, who can read of the frantic
tumult of Dominican history without a grudging obeisance to
the man who has trussed her up and keeps her in a settled pos-
Yes, it is an era of good works. At Dajabon, during my year
in the islands, some thousands of Haitian laborer squatters were
killed by the military and burnt in piles; it is immigrants of white
blood, not black, that are called for by the present policy of up-
lift. I see it yet, the great gate of Dajabon beetling over the Mas-
sacre River: here ended the highroad that progress had built. It
was a mere track that led askew to the bridge beyond, and into
177 OF CABBAGES AND KINGS
the Black Republic. Overhead in the morning wind the Domini-
can flag flapped smartly.
As for Haiti, across the bridge oldest of the Latin-American
republics I soon found that in it I had not got away from dicta-
torial government nor the military. Very tedious the rules and
regulations were. But though the required permits to come and
go gave me rather more than enough pompous intercourse with
the Garde cT Haiti, it was not the "Psst!" saying sort of army.
No camera was snatched from my hands at a baseball game by
an infantryman pretending to do his duty, whereas actually he
was curious, like a child, to peer through the little finder. My
one serious brush with the Haitian military was of another kind.
High on a ridge in the northern plateau is Plaisance, the seat
of a dukedom in Christophers time, but now a humble enough
town. It has a church through which the clouds drift, and a
bustling cantonment; and here, peremptorily, my car was stopped
by a lieutenant of the Garde who made no bones about his ex-
pectation that I would give him a ride to Port-au-Prince. Nor
was I backward in bidding him to "mount." Politeness and pru-
dence called for nothing less.
But it was to prove no mere politic kindness. Instead of driving
off at once, we paused for a luncheon served by his sister, a girl
of striking beauty. Perfect of bronze skin, willowy, and tall, and
with inch hoops of gold in her neat-moulded ears, she mixed the
salad with habitual French care. Ste. Beuve's essays, Molire*s
plays, stood on the shelf.
As for the drive, it was gruellingly long. But we stopped awhile
in Gonaives, that parched wooden city on its Mesopotamian
MANY A GREEN ISLE 178
plain, to call on relatives, and again in St. Marc for the same
purpose. I was stared at or taken to by more than one small niece
that day. And after dark, when it was easy to be uninhibited,
the lieutenant and I broke into a long series of duets while the
car bounced along among the boulders. Rigoletto and Aida were
rifled of their most melodious gems; he awed me with an aria from
Der Rosenkavalier and followed this with the Second Hungarian
Rhapsody, burlesqued with no small musical wit. I even heard a
Haitian ditty or two from him, though he deprecated these as
Thus harmoniously we rode through Arcahaie, past the Stink-
ing Springs, and so to Port-au-Prince very late at last. And when
I think of the lieutenant now or get a Christmas greeting from
him, I have more to remember than his preliminary curt request
The dictator I never saw. I do not recall even seeing pictures
of the man. Haiti has had a wealth of tyrants in its day, from
those early genuinely grand ones, Toussaint, Dessalines, Chris-
tophe, to those more recent and less picturesque, the embezzlers
of the public funds. But in this land whose history is somber with
clotted mulberry-red blood and pig-eyed feats of selfishness, how
had the ragged peasants managed to retain so ancient an air of
happiness? Even the presidency, embezzlers notwithstanding,
seemed to have built for itself a tradition of earnest dilettantism,
as if Haiti were a New World China where the official was ex-
pected also to be a poet.
When, sipping something on Madame FraenkeFs flowery ver-
anda, I bothered to read the papers, the legislative summaries
were always soothing. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,
after a routine rubber-stamping of the proems verbal, the senate
discussed the erection of monuments to the national heroes. On
Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with eloquence no less stir-
ring, pensions were voted to living bigwigs. Meanwhile the presi-
179 OF CABBAGES AND KINGS
dent governed without frivolous interference and had time be-
side to devote to the muse.
But if I never got a glimpse of this serviceable recluse, I did
chance on a memorial to the man nor was it one decreed tact-
fully by the senate. In Kenskoff , where he had a summer villa, a
very short bridge had just been built over a very small rill that
tumbles through the turf; and since even such unremarkable
novelties have importance in the mountains, the workmen had
scratched the date of it in the fresh concrete, and added, Pr-
dent Vincent bon papa, le Magistral Declasse ban gargon* To
read an inscription so good-natured first made me smile, then re-
minded me of the neon-light screamers of Santo Domingo, where
Dies y Trujillo "God and Trujillo" is spelled out as if the
citizen's well-being depended on blatant adulation.
The amenities of this Haitian scheme, in fact, with president
writing poetry, senate discussing monumental art, and people dig-
ging their fields communally to the brisk tumult of drums, I
rather liked. And I still do. I am interested in poetry myself, and
monuments, God knows, and gardening. Or the Tortola scheme
has its merits, in which responsibility is unloaded cheaply on one
competent foreign-hired official.
But never would I be that Tortolian dictator in the white sun
helmet. Tea with the vicar and his wife and the agricultural di-
rector and his wife is too narrow a social round for me. Nor will
anybody ever catch me living in a sentry-guarded wedding cake,
as President Vincent must. I want to lend a hand with the nets
when the bonito run, and be pestered by the children's stopping
in to swap stamps and look at pictures.
The truth is, of course, as probably you have guessed by now,
that my hope is that my island will run itself, and as naturally as if
uninhabited. For though I believe in the necessity of law, and re-
spect the usefulness of rewards and penalties, I neither want to
* "President Vincent, sugar daddy, Magistrate Declasse, old pal old pal old pal"
MANY A GREEN ISLE 180
govern nor be governed. Goodness itself should be law and rec-
ompense enough, in which interplay of precept and well-being
my angel-islanders and I shall find our peace.
But if, for variety some day, cussedness should infect the ant-
like tranquillity of our social scheme, and the Golden Rule carved
on our cliff take on a tinge of the sarcastic, why abandon these
things for others notoriously shaky? Dictator-saviours die at last
and leave matters more open to mismanagement than before. But
their bags of tricks are any citizen's to use: thus, when my
fellows show symptoms of unrest, out I shall pop some festival
or expedition, with banners to wave, uniforms to wear, songs,
oratory, parades, dancingnot to forget the bottled goods and
victuals. Bread and circuses are the classic remedy; I like them
both very much myself, especially when homemade. Or if mili-
tary alarms seemed more in order, a Barbados Ship could well be
organized, to divert the urge healthily to burlesque.
For is the Navigator's art only that of keeping off the rocks?
Must the Ship of State forever be steered in a panic among im-
mediate dangers? Good navigation keeps the vessel not merely off
but away from reefs. In our hearts at least, and thank heaven
for it, we can run grandly before the wind, with the Happy
Island the home port toward which every sail is straining.
I OR REVERY, GRAVEYARDS ONCE WERE
thought to be the appropriate setting: among the monuments to
brief lives, things immortal should take on proper stature. It
seems a romantic notion now, if not silly. A busier generation
indulges its small turn for revery while waiting for traffic lights
to change from red to green. However, in old St. Anthony's
burying ground, one morning in Montserrat, I was musing in the
Victorian way when two colored boys came by, whistling at
the top of their lungs, and so interrupted the enterprise for a
One was named Loomis. He was a show-card writer who had
learned his art by correspondence with a school in Louisville, a
lean doleful chap with a gold tooth in front. The other, aptly (f ot
he was very chesty), was named Samson. He was a barber but
did not take his work too seriously, I think; at any rate the Mont-
serratians that morning could go unshaved for all of him: there
was time not only for the sea bath they had come for but a chat
with the visitor, sitting on a grave-slab among the lilies.
Like the faithful tombstone designer that I am, I had been
enjoying a busman's holiday, examining the epitaphs, and piously
reflecting on Gladstone's dictum that a people's civilization can
be gauged by the way it treats its dead a boost for which the
trade ever since has been pathetically grateful. But it was a
MANY A GREEN ISLE l8z
pleasure to be interrupted, and Samson's rough-and-tumble looks
reminded me that other professions than mine give clues to a
people's place on the kdder upward. Barbering, too his line-
could serve. In a word, I found myself telling the boys about my
last haircut, which I had got in French St. Martin.
In St. Martin there was no barbershop. The island is a flyspeck
on maps when not omitted altogether, for which reason perhaps
no barber has taken a pole there and set up business. But Jean the
hotel boy told me there was a man in town who could be called
in to do a job of haircutting, so I sent him to fetch the fellow.
Jean was always going off and then coming back without
having accomplished anything; I looked him up in the pantry by
and by and so learned that our barber was out for the present
on his daily run to keep in training. He was the heavyweight
boxing champion of Santo Domingo, Jean admiringly revealed,
and as strong as a young team of mules.
Awed, I awaited a more favorable hour, and when the hero
came with kit in one black hammy hand, seated myself submis-
sively in the chair he planted in the hotel's front vestibule. "Cool
here," he explained, diumbing hotel patrons to the back. Then
crouching over my shrunk-down form, he brandished the scissors
in a fanfare of preliminary snips. "Happy to oblige you!" he
boomed; "but in Santo Domingo," he went on, taking me by an
ear, "my regular job is repairing boilers."
There was no gasp of professional dismay from the Montserrat
barber. To him the experience seemed a rare social privilege.
"You got a lovely haircut, right enough," he reported, leaning
back to admire its neck parts.
"We box, too," said Loomis, doubling his fists at the manly
thought. But then he relaxed and a tender, almost lovesick, light
came into his face.
"Do you know some of the Hollywood stars?" Samson inquired
hopefully , for he had read his friend's mind.
183 HOT BATHS
Blushing, I had to admit that such was not my sphere. It
seemed incredible to the boys that I could share the continent
with these beings without taking advantage of such proximity.
Their own dream, it proved, was to add theater management to
their existing businesses: Montserrat was yet unbrightened by the
cinema except as a tent show came over, now and then, from
Antigua. The double bliss of riches and of luscious unrest every
performance, during the kissing scenes, opened before them like
a gate of gold.
Gold, however, was just what they lacked at present to realize
the dream. When the topic came to this leaden dead-end we re-
membered we were in a graveyard.
The boys rose and shook my hand. "See you later," they called
back as they went through the beach-top hedge. And soon, with
faded bathing suits knotted around their bodies, they were
wading vigorously into the sea.
It was late summer; the pink lilies in a huge profusion half-
buried the gravestones under their deep-scented sheaves. An old
man was mowing them steadily with his cutlass, but there were
thousands left and thousands more were pushing up buds as if
life were too abundant in Montserrat for Father Time to curb.
Under the lilies and among the tablets, or under the beach-top
hedge especially, iguanas rustled: the blue saw-tooth scales down
the ridges of their spines gave them a humorous appearance, as
if here was the age of dragons safely visible through some tele-
scope's wrong end.
But between old times and this of the dragons* lizardy succes-
sors, how many victims of yellow fever, young and unready, had
died and been laid away here about me! Hurricanes and earth-
quakes had dug graves for others; and others again in tranquil
old age had come almost of their own accord, leaning on their
canes. Peace lapped them around now, all equally. The church
drowsed in its grove, the steep mountains, of rich green fissured
MANY A GREEN ISLE 184
with umber landslips, seemed to float above the fields. And
monotonously on its dark beach the sea mounted and lapsed, and
rushed up and lapsed again. Loomis and Samson were resting,
stretched out in the shallows.
Yes, these colonial British graveyards could be domains of
quiet. I thought back to Lucea's in Jamaica, on its headland, with
spire rising gray over the broad-boughed trees; and of Antigua's
cathedral churchyard, where gouty planters and their hoop-
skirted ladies lie fast asleep under the classic stones: up the long
slope of that latter lawn, birds of a sober feather flocking together,
the sexton's turkeys marched, pecking and gobbling, while the
two St. Johns, carved atop their respective gateposts, looked out
upon the white gables of the city.
Then in my idle brain up rose the mahogany avenues of the
old St. Thomas cemetery. In that international port of peace here
was the most international corner: the inscriptions were in Danish,
Spanish, Russian, Italian, German, Portuguese, English, Dutch,
and French. But all these various voices were muted to one level
graveyard stillness, like a rustle heard deep in a shell, or the
whisper of death, death, that the sea raised to the boy Walt
Whitman's ear. All languages made the one same inevitable
Father Time here put down his cutlass to rest his bones. I, too,
lay back, head on hands on a warm grave ledger, and stared
up through the plump twigs of the frangipanis. Memory of the
sepulchers at Santiago de los Caballeros in the great mid-valley
of Santo Domingo came to mind: they were whited extremely
ornate concrete pastry work, whose Street of the Dead at the
end of town unbrokenly continued the main street of the living.
To imagine the old carriages that drove out of some Poe's tale
into the Santiago streets at night, lamps streaming candle grease
and horses all ribs, galloping on down this street of mausoleums
was a fancy shudderingly delicious. But the gates were shut by
185 HOT BATHS
that hour. The moon, lighting the two cities with impartial bril-
liance, glittered in the beaded wreaths and turned the urns and
pediments to sculptured snow. Peering through, in my revery,
I felt the chill of the gate bars on my cheeks again.
Or the graveyards of the Haitian hinterlands what would
Gladstone have said of their antique piety? It was sad to realize
that at the sight of the calabash bowls of meal that I had seen so
often, left as offerings in the niches of the tombs the cups of
drink, the candle stubs he would have let the word "Super-
stition!" agitate his sideburns.
And true it is, too, that the most numerous spirits and two of
the chief gods of the Voodoo pantheon dwell in these church-
blessed precincts. Before the great cross that rises Christianly
above all lives the god of cemeteries, dwarf Baron Samedi, master
of the souls of those slain by magic. Behind it drunkenly sleeps
Ged6, the grave-digger god, rum-loving and scandalmongering.
While the white gentlefolk of Antigua's cathedral churchyard
are at their slumbers and the turkeys flock untroubled on the turf
above, the Haitian dead are astir: they feed at posterity's expense
and are included symbolically in family affairs, or, angrily roam-
ing the night fields and steep coffee thickets, they visit their
grudges on the impious, with disease, ill luck, and melancholy.
Here the iguanas broke into a sudden scamper; Loomis and
Samson, twirling their wet suits, passed below the hedge on their
way back into town. "Sea bath feel too good to end!" they called;
whereupon, by undisciplined transition, recollection of swimming
frolics crowded into my head.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 186
With Glanville Smith I dived into the sapphire brine again, off
Coki Point: in St. Thomas I had chanced on a colored taxi-driver
of exactly my own name, to celebrate which odd event we rode
off for an afternoon's bathing in Smith's Bay. But Coki Bay was
finer. The blue of its depths as we swam through the liquid
radiance, a white fish and a brown, I think of still with wonder.
Or, for green water, there was Englishman's Bay on the north
coast of Tobago. Herons waded along the pink crescent of its
sands; annatto flowers wagged their lemon-colored faces in the
breeze. At the beach ends the high rocks were draped in the
tapestry of vines and wide-branched foliage: thank heaven the
world was shut away from that dangerously perfect place! But
the great Orinoco, for a continental reminder, dyed the blue sea
with its yellow at Englishman's Bay, a hundred miles from its
nearest mouth. My submarine wallowings were in a light half
emerald, half amber.
Then I thought of the Calabash Bay brown water babies who
had taught me to coast in like a gargoyle projecting from the
parapet of a breaking wave; and of Jason Apperly in a hill torrent
of his Dominica, tickled to giggling by the bubbles that seethed
up about him; and then of the lonesome Arima River in Trinidad,
dropping from cool pool to pool under the bamboos and the
jutting banks. Drowsing on a silk-smooth boulder there in mid-
stream, as I drowsed now among these lilies, I had watched a
butterfly of Brazilian blue flap by on wings as broad as sandwiches.
Then without even the effort of sitting up I was hunching my
shoulders happily in a St. Lucian warm spring. My small guides,
on the bank above, wriggled in anticipation of their turns, and
blew crystalline bugle calls on hollow leaf-stems from a papaya.
And next day they led me to a waterfall that flowed hot on one
side, cold on the other: it was a freak so pleasant that when I tried
it I resolved my island positively must have one.
187 HOT BATHS
But these St. Lucian waters were of a gentle temperature. In
Nevis, at the old Bath House, I had laid my startled length in
something decidedly more peppery. After I had staggered up again
in fact, and raised a limp hand to a towel, the puzzle was to know
how to finish sweating. Heaven help me! what a freshet! There
was no half-cold waterfall, no cool water at hand whatever, and
no servant to bring any in the emergency. For the planters of
Antigua, Barbados, or St. Kitts, who took the cure in the old
Madeira-quaffing days, had departed this life long since, in spite
of the relief from gout the waters gave them. They and their
liveried valets and powdered ladies, and the breath of fashion
that these people had brought the spa, had gone away; the vaulted
chambers and high airy galleries were guestless except for one
military invalid and me.
The Banos de Coamo in Puerto Rico I had found more con-
temporary in their convenience. But like Nevis's, here was an
establishment very old. The thick masonry had stood up against
a century or two of hurricanes.
While the maids of Spanish times opened the giant faucets and
drove stoppers as big as rolling pins into the giant drains, the
cabctlleros had jested coarsely, pulling off their tight spurred
boots. And then, though saddle-tired muscles eased in the marble
tub where now I floated, faces must have hardened and grown
pensive. Men came to Coamo for more than baths in the gay old
times: stakes were high in the candlelit hot casino.
Or their pouting senoras had been my predecessors, obese from
too great a passion for poached eggs in their broth. What dreams
had bloomed in the bath-heated imagination of the ladies, I
wondered, as they rolled pneumatically in this cozy old sar-
Yes, the old spa had the flavor in it of other times. The parlor
was a lesson in Spanish etiquette; as for the dining room, painted
MANY A GREEN ISLE 188
with pompously scroll-framed moon-struck landscapes, here was
the original of the "interior" at whose cardboard glories, in the
Davidson Opera House at home, I had gawked so many times with
small-boy awe. I went through the heavy menu once again,
lying in the Montserrat graveyard, and heard the spry old waiter
wheeze, "Fish, sir?" formally at my elbow.
But fish and formality indeed! A more immediate recollection
smote me and made me sit up with a jerk. The Commissioner was
to entertain at Coconut Hill this very night. I must put on a collar
and attend; Would I be expected to take a place at a bridge table
perhaps? a thought so anxious that a sweat like Nevis's burst
out on my back.
It was a needless perspiration. Bridge was not obligatory that
night. My new bow tie as much as tied itself; it was of a red
shade as was also the cummerbund I wore around my middle.
Items so daring, amid the British black, set the girls' eyes in a
sparkle. And having planted the flag of fashion Columbus-like in
their insular world, I basked in the sensation caused without men-
tioning that these things were novelties also to the wearer.
But insularity need not imply rusticity. The butlers with
courtly tread handed the trays of whisky-and-soda and excellent
iced coffee, the lamps roared, and the bridge tables showed with
what refinement the cave-man lust for blood can be endued.
There was "hearts" and there was fortunetelling, with well-
modulated Creole laughter and urbane repartee; and then finally
an elegant supper on well-shined mahogany.
Meanwhile, and while I amused the young ladies in their swishy
frocks, or discussed church music with the white-thatched canon
(he wrote anthems) or heeded the remarks of the dapper in-
spector of the port, the picture would fade suddenly from before
my eyes, and quite as if I were in a proper graveyard scene again
an impolite spell of revery would seize me. Recollection of an-
189 HOT BATHS
other party on that same day and island would push imperiously
Beyond the town, and past St. Anthony's, a beach follows all
the way to Bransby Point* Worrying about the new tie and the
evening's social responsibilities, I had walked the brown sands
that afternoon from bay to bay, around cliffs that beetled close
to the wash. But always the next bay looked pleasanter for a
swim; until, in silhouette against the dazzling sea-polish laid down
by the sun, I saw some bathers ahead who might make me com-
pany. Watching my footing over a stony ridge, I came down
courteously to ask to join them.
The request was never made. Suddenly thunderstruck, I stood
rooted in my tracks.
Uprooted violently from theirs were my intended bath mates.
These two bronze Adams and their two bronze Eves sprinted in
search of a fig tree as if a vice-squad car had tooted its horn in
Eden. But before shame had found a covering one Adam turned
a cartwheel and came up bellowing: "It's only the tombstone
man from America!" For it was not Adam but Samson with
Loomis and a pair of girl-friends. One good sea bath that day had
led to another on a more ambitious scale.
Was ever tombstone designer taken captive before by libertine
tritons and their mermaids? Probably not, I surmised hurriedly,
while Enid twitched my shirttails out.
"You give us a fright at first," said Dorthy cheerfully, draping
a crown of seaweed on my unaccustomed brow. "We thought
you was the inspector of the port. Not that he would make
MANY A GREEN ISLE 190
trouble for poor girls like us," she went on, while Loomis fetched
the rum. "Not police trouble, I mean. But he think he got a lease
on me, and if find me out with Samson ..."
"Sure would be a fight!" Samson cried, beaming completely
from head to toe. And up on one shoulder he swung the inspec-
tor's faithless doxy.
"Gentlemen sure can act unreasonable," she mused, rubbing
Samson's belly with her heels. "Inspector don't want me to regale
myself with nobody but him."
"Have a rum," said Loomis, wiping the cup clean with his
finger. My Adam's apple pumped and tears sprang to my eyes:
it was the local brand, poured from a dim naphtha bottle.
But Enid had been seized by an inspiration. "Mr. Tombstones
will snap our photo!" she screeched. "Samson, put Dorthy down
and stand all in a row."
"O.K.! " sang out Samson; "let me get my ukulele."
"Ukulele? what for?" grumbled Loomis. For "live pictures"
were his private business: such wares found a good market in the
London underworld. "Those guys want action!" he protested.
"We develop the films ourself," explained Dorthy, coolly,
bringing the camera from behind a rock. And in a row the two
couples stood: Samson with his chest out and one arm lightly
around Dorthy; and lank Loomis, his gold tooth glittering, with
pert Enid who had one front tooth gone.
"My specialty is epitaphs," I warned them, gingerly fingering
the camera. I had thought to find it hot. "But if a Dominican
boilermaker can cut hair," I went on, adjusting myself to the
occasion, "I guess an American tombstone man can take a photo-
graph. Look pleasant please, Ladies and gentlemen! Now hold
"Whoopee!" cried Samson, turning another cartwheel.
Loomis was bursting with further plans. This would put money
in his pocket. "Mister, you just got us going," he crowed. And
191 HOT BATHS
while my subjects piled up or sprawled out like a basket of
puppies, in poses that they hoped would look audacious, or played
leapfrog or rode pickaback, or lay in the wash of the waves in a
row of alternate muscularity and soft curves, I knelt, clambered
on rocks for bird's-eye views, or plunged after them into the sea
to snap the shutter.
Samson had brought "the gloves": Dorthy and Enid, with
much noisy coaching, staged a feminine boxing match. The boys
then posed in sporting-page positions, and followed with some
show-off boxing of their own. Panting and dizzy after these
various exertions, everybody dropped on the sand to rest.
But Samson, that deep reservoir of life, soon sat up and reached
for his ukulele. Leaning back on Dorthy, he tuned the strings,
and in accents as like the movie crooners as he could manage
sang "Dancing Cheek to Cheek." For the hinty longing of the
American love songs is new and beautiful to the colored islanders;
their own songs the carnival ditties, the Trinidad calypsos tell
of an open, unbalked, unromantic kind of passion; and though
they respond readily to the strong rhythms of this island music
and guffaw at its rowdy texts, it no longer seems refined. The
sweet music of Tin Pan Alley is more stylish.
Cheek to cheek indeed! Here in full sunlight was Samson,
leaning back naked on his naked girl, and crooning the wistful
songs of a city where love blooms covertly behind pulled-down
shades. The scene lacked modesty, no doubt about it.
"You play the uke, Dorthy," I proposed. "Lean on Sam and
please let me put a frangipani flower over your little ear. We'll
make that the last picture." Mixing of blood in long Irish Mont-
serrat can breed bronze variations on the Celtic theme, and this
couple typified their beauty at its best. Enid's heritage was less
happy, but she was a jolly girl and so, not wishing to leave her
with her feelings hurt, I brought back a double handful of hot
MANY A GREEN ISLE 192
high-beach sand to where she lay, and sifted it slowly down her
belly. "Feel good?" I inquired. She wiggled in a rapture.
At Coconut Hill there luckily was hot water for a bath. The
faucets roared in a resounding tone, in tune with which I found
myself singing "Massa's in the Cold Cold Ground." How absurd!
"What if my tombstone clients could see me now?" I mused,
lying back to dissolve the sea salt from my hair. As it happened
I was thinking of the afternoon, but suddenly a-blush sat up and
twitched-to tie window shutters.
At the party, presently, white collar around sunburnt neck, and
red tie around the collar, I looked quizzically at the inspector of
the port. "Our Montserrat products," a kind lady told me, help-
ing me with my West Indian education, "are limes, and long-
staple cotton." The parcels that went off to the London picture
dealers she ignored, juicier than limes for all their flatness. Or did
I have a more complete knowledge than hers of the island's
As for the canon, we toured the English cathedrals, he and I.
I was glad to note that it impressed him when I mentioned that
among my library's curiosities was the music for Lord Nelson's
funeral in St. Paul's in 1 805.
"The hero of Trafalgar was married just over the channel
here, in Nevis," he boasted, crossing his legs briskly the other
way. And the subject of dirges reminded him that he had written
a funeral march himself, based on the sea's beat at the foot of his
church's burying ground. "I suppose you know your poet Whit-
man's lines . . ." he hazarded.
I told him that I had thought of them there that very morning.
"But someone has pointed out," I went on, for a thought had
struck me, "that Orpheus's great aria, in the opera, if sung with
joy instead of pathos, would do as well for 'I have found my
Eurydice!' as for 1 have lost' her."
"No! no! a sacrilege! " he demurred.
193 HOT BAT'HS
"But my thought was," I persisted, "that the waves that run up
your long brown beach may be whispering, not ^ death y death?
but 'life, life, life: "
"A beautiful idea!*' exclaimed the canon. "You make me pine,
almost, to get at next Sunday's sermon. 'Ocean, mighty mother of
all things' . . ." he intoned.
But still we were thinking differently of those waves. The
waves that I heard there at the Commissioner's urbane party, came
whispering with a glint in their roving eyes.
HOW TO LIVE TO A RIPE
OLD AGE IN THE TROPICS
tf A KB OtT *
IF ALL THE ANIMALS, MAN IS BEST ABLE
to adapt himself to earth's various uncomfortable climates. Most
of us would live in California or Paris if we could; but since this
bliss is reserved for the few, the many exist and multiply else-
where, even if it has to be amid the rigors of dried-up mountains,
soggy jungles, Arctic snow fields, or deserts that roast the feet.
The next most adaptable animal, as Gibbon pointed out in
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is the hog. But
Gibbon did not pause long in his masterpiece to consider the
porcine genius, nor do I intend to do so in mine. For man, to give
him his due, is several skips ahead of this nearest rival. Even in
the tropics, where clothes, heat, and artificial shelter are unobliga-
tory, and hog thus might hope to live on equal terms with man,
he doesn't: over the superior animal's charcoal fire his hams, as
usual, cook till tender.
Adaptable though the race may be, its habit is to migrate
around the globe according to its original latitudes. The American
pioneers, as a rule, drove due west in their covered wagons,
Yankees to my Minnesota, Tennesseeans to Arkansas. In the larger
migrations, the dark denizens of the tropics stick to the hot places;
195 HOW TO LIVE T0 A B 11 OLD AGE E* T^ TROPICS
the swart subtropicals are found in the subtropics still; we North-
European blonds, even when we go to Australia, choose its tem-
perate parts for the new home and let the torrid parts stay empty.
However, this is only a general rule. As soon as they learn of
Harlem, certainly, the black Africans go there if they get the
chance. And not yet have I read statistics ominous of the
extinction of that slum colony. A thousand miles from their
natural tropics, its inhabitants stand the cold because they love
the life; babies are born to grow up and produce more babies, as
methodically as if New York were in Dahomey.
We whites, on the other hand, regard ourselves as more deli-
cate. If we exchange apple orchards for nutmeg groves, we invite
a quick racial decline: in two or three generations, limp, impo-
tent, and gibbering, we die: such is the nasty picture.
But stop! wait! are we whites not the most excellent of man-
kind? If blacks can survive in Harlem, why should we fail in
Trinidad? Prometheus, an early (and an able) white man, fetched
down the fire from heaven for our conquest of the cold; our
scientists, now, and much better paid too, have fetched down ice.
Some day, no doubt about it, we shall build cities in the tropics
artificially cooled, as cities in the North for ages have been
warmed. Rather than hurrying to church in an overcoat, as we
do in the North, we shall peel, and trip over in a sort of fairy
underwear, to be met by an usher with a wool cloak suitable to
the services and the church's healthful chill.
Another means to our physical salvation might be the breeding
in of tropical blood, as the Jamaicans cross their cattle with the
zebu to make them heat-resistant. The Harlem colony, as is no
secret, softens the climate to its offspring by diverting toward it
the talisman of northern blood. But whereas the Negro can have
white blood among his assets and be a Negro still, we whites do not
permit ourselves a like precaution in the tropics. In our eyes, one
MANY A GREEN ISLE 196
whisk of the tarbrush, seven generations back, is enough to
It seems an unproud position for a proud race to maintain. If
white blood is so inestimably superior to black, even a little of it
ought to amend gallons of the latter.
Here it must be remarked, nevertheless, that while air condi-
tioning is yet a thing of the future in the West Indies, the saving
vigor of mixed blood, though no guarantee of social acceptability,
is an old, well-tried, and widely enjoyed benefit. Black blood,
like the zebu's, gives heat-resistance, white gives mental quick-
ness. Such, that is, is the opinion. But when I heard the most
celebrated of the Nassau lawyers (a colored man, and a colored
man is the cleverest lawyer in Jamaica) diabolically confounding
white opposing lawyers' arguments, I wondered whether his
cunning had come altogether from the "right end of the
If we allowed such mixed-bloods the name of white in the
black world of the isles, as in the white world of the North we
call them black, the waves of immigration that swept in from
Europe only to sink away, would perhaps seem not so futile as
they now do to white historians and geographers. I should guess
that there is as much white blood in the Antilles now .as ever.
Only, of course, it flows for the most part in the veins of colored
But even without the aid of mixed blood or an artificially cooled
architecture, is it a certainty that we whites must languish in the
tropics? Is the self-acknowledged premier race of the world nearer
allied to the hog in point of climate adaptability than the sooty
No! For never let it be said that this inquirer, in whose veins
courses no corpuscle not authentically Scotch, Dutch, or English,
failed, while in the isles, to collect data to disprove an opinion
197 HOW T0 LIVE T0 A RIPE OLD AGE IN THE
both so widespread and so humiliating. My findings herewith
TREE AKP BOAT <T I M 8 Z fc 9
Oceanward, beyond the out-facing eastmost chain of the
Bahamas, are some detached islets, among which Harbor Island,
Hope Town, New Plymouth, and Spanish Wells have long been
inhabited. Rather than settling on the "mainland" of Eleuthera or
Abac6, the old colonists built their houses and laid the keels of
their sailing vessels on these cays to seaward.
Of all West Indian ports, here are the most oceanic. Across to
them drift the glass net floats the Portuguese fishermen use: the
immense slow deep-sea current that revolves past Lisbon and
around the Sargasso Sea flows by these Bahamian dunes, and the
trade wind blows the globular green waifs ashore. I picked one up
on Harbor Island beach myself, stripped it of barnacles, and held
it to the sun to see its color. For all its common bottle glass, it was
a marine creature, a swimmer from the sea toil of the Old World
to this sailors' island of the New.
But Harbor Island is an old place in New World terms. The
United States Navy's initial exploit, in 1776, was to capture
Nassau not to annex the Bahamas but to seize British stores.
The deed done in bungling good order, our squadron retired,
whereupon Spain, edging back toward her lost outpost at St.
Augustine, moved in in our stead. But not for long. A Carolina
loyalist, with forces recruited chiefly in Harbor Island, set the
MANY A GREEN ISLE 198
Union Jack fluttering in its old place again; in thanks for which
aid the Crown rewarded the Harbor Islanders with agricultural
lands to be held in common on Eleuthera across the bay.
Even now, daybreak sees the port's gardeners setting sail to
work those fields; and evening, when the lamplighter climbs to
light his beacon, sees them sailing home again over the sunset's
mirrored color. With the gurgle of brine in the wharf timbers, up
conies the sound of tropical Cockney, where yams and firewood
and bananas are being unloaded: the islanders misplace their Ws
and reverse their its and to's as scrupulously as do the Wellers in
But Harbor Island is not so much like England as it is New
England. The boiled dinners there, of salt beef and cabbage, were
a happy Down East surprise. The Protestant tin tones of the
church bells, the deep Sabbath calms, the Cape Cod cottages and
white picket fences, were all in the best Yankee tradition.
However, it was like the New England of an older time, when
"ring games" were the young folks' fun, and maritime rather than
industrial affairs busied their elders. Boats are the island preoccu-
pation: yachts that are the colony's pride are built on the harbor
beach. When school is out, down pelt the children hoping to be
allowed to stir the paint or perhaps to steady a mast that, laid on
the grass, is being planed to a fine tapering slimness by some uncle
or big brother. The tots meanwhile rig boats of coconut husks:
their world has no wheeled vehicle in it to distract interest from
Young Charles Sweeting, with sailor cap perched above his
sunny face, one afternoon took me sailing. As usual, it was boats
he talked of, I urging him on; for the topic, with its salty sea
terms, is one of the best on earth for wholehearted rhapsody. When
he spoke of the Pieces-of-Eight or the Bishop's trim St. 'Mary of
Stafford, whose building he had watched, a greensickness came
over him such as dizzied poor Pepys when the string band divinely
199 HOW TO LIVE TO A RIPE OLD AGE E* THE TROPICS
fell to playing. The boat we were in he handled centaur-like, as
if he and it were all one vigorous animal
"Hard-a-lee!" he would sing out in a voice like a cheery-
trumpet; and when the breeze caught us and we tipped up and
flew lolloping over the turquoise brine, he looked as full of mas-
tery as a commodore. "If I could sail around the world in a little
boat like this," he interrupted a song to cry, "Fd never forget
her! I'd put her up when she was old, and I ... I ... Fd paint
her every day\"
Such poetry and such a sea enthusiasm sent a chill of pleasure up
my spine. It was as if I had come to Salem in the days when the
sea fever burnt so ardently in the young New England blood.
But in Harbor Island there were things that would have looked
odd in Salem. "Goats and Coconuts" said the sign on the wharf-
head warehouse. When old Mr. Ingraham brought me a bag of
fruit, as he often and kindly did, it was not New England apples
but tropic-sweet sapodillas, the flesh at their hearts as smooth to
the tongue as butter. Mrs. Sweeting, when she baked, retired to
the back garden among cannas and huge wine-red Nassau lilies
and fired an outdoor oven. "I put dry palm blossoms on top of
the wood," she told me, "for the 'flare.' "
Despite the boiled dinners, her cooking also had a non-New
England flavor. In hot places, so they say, the fading appetite
needs hot condiments to revive it: the Jamaican and Caymanian
sauces that stand innocently on the dinner tables of old families
set a visitor's eyes to streaming, no doubt about that; Mrs. Sweet-
ing's macaroni and cheese was peppery indeed.* Or perhaps the
lack of refrigeration in the old days helped to breed a taste for
the fiery: Cayman and the Bahamas, where the taste is most pro-
nounced far more so than in the Spanish islands were too poor
* At banquets in Antigua in the eighteenth century, a pepper-pod was put at each
guest's plate for a zest refresher.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 2OO
in well water to afford even that minor aid in cooling. Pepper
was a preservative.
Least of all like New England, however, were the community's
Negroes. At first I was surprised to find them there. They seemed
out of place. But by the time I had learned to enjoy Mr. Ingra-
ham's buttery dillies, I had grown used to seeing black tots as
well as white ones sailing coconut boats, and black laborers re-
turning at sunset from the Eleutherian fields across the bay. What
surprised me then was to observe how few of them there were.
Nassau, for all its old aristocracy, is a black city as anybody
who has sauntered Bay Street on a Saturday night must agree. The
Bahamas as a whole, in fact, are black. But here at Harbor Island
there were as many whites as Negroes: such a proportion is white
indeed in the Antilles, where the normal thing (except in olive-
skinned Cuba and Puerto Rico) is to find two hundred black and
tans for every dozen white people.
Hope Town, the Alice Mable*s captain had told me, maintains
an ideal even more exclusive; Negroes are given rough welcome
there. As for Spanish Wells, it is "pure white"; the laboring class
on that market-garden cay is as Caucasian as the banker class is
in Nassau. I watched the Wells' sunburnt boatmen one day, in
faded blue shirts and trousers, f etching out baskets of vegetables
and papayas to our city-bound vessel, and very tough, merry, and
sinewy they were, with bare feet braced in the strain of bringing
their cargoes alongside in the flowing tide.
But even at Harbor Island, where there were Negroes in plenty
for manual labor, the white citizens persisted in doing their share
of it. Yacht building and repairs most emphatically were not
delegated to black hands. Nor did Mrs. Sweeting turn the arts of
her kitchen over to anyone but her own capable self. Mr. Ingra-
ham sent no slavey for the sapodillas, but trudged into the country
for them on his own old feet.
After I had noticed this, I noticed the wide gap between the
2OI HOW TO LIVE TO A RIPE OLD AGE IN THE TROPICS
drawn, evidently, in sexual as well as yacht-building affairs. As for
a spiritual division, the last Wesleyan minister had tried to thaw
out the racial coldness present: all souls being white, as we whites
say, why should the house of souls be entered by a more honorable
and less honorable door? The upshot of this front-door back-door
business was, that he soon preached to few but black ears, and so
left the charge less thawed-out than ever.
Tired of being cut off from their white neighbors either as
intimates or indispensable servants, the black Harbor Islanders
have fallen back on the inferior reputation assigned to them and
tease their white superiors a little with petty theft. Their ancestors
were the slaves of the ancestors of the island whites; this obscure
community on its dunes by the revolving ocean, has had more
than two centuries in which to come to equilibrium. So also have
Hope Town and Spanish Wells. Since these communities have sur-
vived so long, their habits cannot be dismissed as merely pleasant
or unpleasant. They have practical significance. With which
thought to chew on, we set sail for Saba.
Saba, a Dutch island to the east of the Anegada Passage, makes
a show on maps, because for all its small circumference it sticks
too high into the air for the cartographers to overlook. One of the
Antilles' best and oldest jokes is that Saba's capital, at the top of
a toilsome nine-hundred-foot series of flagstone stairs, is called
The Bottom. But "the bottom" it is, in Saban terms; the other
towns are all up farther flights St. John's, Windward Side, or
(nearest to heaven of all) HelPs Gate.
Up these formidable stairs a few circus horses have been
trained to climb. The captain of my ship had hired the lot for
MANY A GREEN ISLE 2O2
himself, his Dutch guests, Dutch wife, and dainty small Dutch
daughter. The party viewed their mounts with some trepidation
and the road ahead with more: horses' backs at home stayed usu-
ally at a level. Poor Netherlanders! their trip up was anxious
enough, but when Dobbin turned 'round and skipped downstairs
with rump up and head in China, there was nothing to do but
cover the eyes with one hand and catch at the saddle with the
Unhampered by a horse, I got on much more nimbly. Here
was The Bottom, with morning's dews yet fresh upon it a town
half provision garden in a hollow. And here was Windward Side
on its ridge, another nine hundred feet nearer to the sky. In
illimitable miles of bright sun glitters the Caribbean quivered far
below; up from its surf the $teep cliffs leaned, then steep slopes
of grass studded with bursts of sisal; next, tropical shrubs, woods
growing at a frightful angle, and then pastures more moderately
tilted. And here was the town and I puffing into it, while Saba's
peak still loomed above, piercing a soft mist of cloud.
What a town! For sweet looks it was a veritable lollipop.
Begonias and slim crocuses bloomed atop the mossy walls, fat
cows posed majestically in paddocks the size of parlor carpets.
As for the houses, so spotless-white, with their masonry gable ends
and hooded chimneys their shutters, iron lamps, picket gates,
and flowers obviously they had been grouped as they were to
stage an operetta. At the proper signal in some blithe overture,
every door should have sprung open and out of each should have
danced tenor and soprano sweethearts, kicking their feet in reck-
less unison and trilling:
Try the Golden Rule, folks,
No need of feeling blue:
Come to Saba,
Love your neighba
/ . . . love . . . you!
203 HOW TO LIVE TO A RIPE OLD AGE IN THE TROPICS
But there seemed to be no performance scheduled for that
morning. Instead, sheds were being painted, gardens were being
weeded, windows were being washed. On verandas pretty girls
in their prettiest frocks were busy at the drawn work for which
the island is famous.
Fronting a flowery lane a shank's-mare world requires no
streets was a general store. Feeling somewhat uncouth, I entered.
Frilled curtains hung at the well-polished windows, the scrubbed
floor was as white underfoot, almost, as the fresh-painted low
ceiling was overhead. The place, in fact, seemed too nice to last.
In spite of the real kerosene and the real soap chips for sale, it
seemed related to a general store at home much in the way Marie
Antoinette's dairy would to a Minnesota dairy. These pretty
looks, however, like the sweet looks of the town, were no smirk
aimed at the tourist trade. Not two hundred strangers climb to
Windward Side in a year. Nor were they signs of a more abundant
life decreed and financed by the government at The Hague. Such
amenities are habitual in Saba.
The hospitable amenities are remembered also. I had not been in
Windward Side ten minutes before I was sipping a cup of coffee
in somebody's house up five flowery tiers of terraces. Cookies
came with it, served by the young ladies of the family; my host
and I clinked glasses of rich berry wine. "Good health and long
life!" was the toast we drank.
But good health and long life are commonplace things on the
island. It is an old colony, of a history generally serene. In 1700
it was a community of cobblers: the very governor made shoes,
and the Lutheran pastor, too, gossip said. But the sea now, the
wide world over, gives the Saban men their trade.
While husbands and fathers go to sea, wives and daughters
stay at home: it is a woman-managed world, which undoubtedly
explains why it is so orderly and pretty. For the men are gone
MANY A GREEN ISLE 204
years at a time; their island has no harbor to make a port for
vessels of their own, thus they sail on the ships of the outside
world. But their savings come home regularly, which with the
pin money the women's needlework will fetch, comfortably sup-
ports the colony.
But Saba has not only its ships' officers and seamen and its
home-staying women but Negroes too, in about Harbor Island's
proportion. They are the island porters: when a Hell's Gate
citizen orders a set of Shakespeare, it has to be carried up on
somebody's head from the beach landing at the real bottom of
the stairs. No West Indian island has sunnier or politer blacks
than these Saban athletes. But blacks they are, not light-browns.
They inhabit The Bottom for the most part, while the upper
towns are reserved by the white islanders for themselves.
Though they find it useful, Negro aid is something the white
Sabans can do without; competence is their common virtue. Work
degrades nobody. And where every errand or Sunday call in-
volves climbing some mountain staircase, hearts grow as leathery
as boxing gloves. Exercise and sea winds keep cheeks from grow-
ing pasty. People live to a great age in Saba, whatever may be
*," I hear you grumble, "if these Sabans live on the top of
a mountain, no wonder their cheeks are rosy. They live above
the heat. As for Harbor Island and those other white settlements
in the Bahamas, they are not in the tropics at all; they are as far
north as Miami."
True enough. I have not cited the most impressive examples,
205 HOW TO LIVE T0 A RIPE OLD AGE IN THE TROPICS
perhaps.* But if Harbor Island won't do, what of Cayman? Well
blistered by an authentically tropic sun, that colony, together
with its customs, industry, food, speech, and proportion between
black and white, very nearly duplicates the Bahamian out-island.
The sunburnt boatmen of Cayman Brae and Spanish Wells niight
easily be brothers. The Caymanian women, again, vigorously
dispatch their housework, independent to a marked degree of
black help. I see Mrs. Jones now, on a ladder, knocking down
breadfruit for my dinner.
As for lofty Saba, its near neighbor St. Barts is a whiter island
though not half so high. Moreover the white Normans there live
generally at sea level where the heat is greatest.
Laborious farmers, herders, hat weavers, and fishermen, the St.
Bartians are downright peremptory in their independence of
Negro help. They hold aloof from the few colored townsmen and
do their own sweating. As for maintaining the race, they have
managed that since the mid-seventeenth century, never guessing
that it was supposed to be impossible. Instead of succumbing to
the climate, they have planted their children elsewhere in it when
St. Barts itself grew overcrowded. The Cha Chas of St. Thomas
are such an overflow, notorious in their new home, even disliked,
for their humble standards of life, tireless industry, and the bull-
dog grip they keep on their racial independence.
For a tombstone designer to solve ethnographic puzzles is rash
indeed. But why not try? My guess is that in these successful
white colonies the saving element is iDork\ and by this I mean
not tasks managerial or professional such as have always been
performed in the tropics by the whites, but the work that demands
bodily exertion. In our tombstone man's judgment it paves the
*A. GrenfeU Price, whose excellent study of White Settlers in the Tropics has
been published since this chapter was written, declares that Saba and Miami both
enjoy the true tropical climate. He also says that the Sabans have dyspepsia from
eating too many biscuits. But his findings in the Caribbean often parallel mine, I am
relieved to note; and though his conclusions are cautiously reserved, they do not
conflict with those made by this unscientific visitor.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 206
way toward survival for two reasons that it is healthful in itself,
despite long tradition to the contrary, and that it discourages the
native Tropicals from an overwhelming multiplication.
"Sweating very healthy!" the darkys say, suiting the action to
the word. And healthy they are, and so are the white Saban
housewives or white market gardeners of Spanish Wells. Lady
Nugent, the famed diarist of old Jamaica, was in a constant panic
over her husband the governor: while his colleagues reclined in
the shade to drink sangaree and complain of the heat, Sir George
galloped about discharging his arduous duties without regard for
climate. It was the daily miracle in Kingston that this strenuous-
ness did not kill him, when men so much more careful of their
health were dying like flies. "He worked himself to death,"
people said, I suppose, when he succumbed at the age of ninety-
Yes, the history of the black islands, such as Jamaica, has been
of white people who turned the exertions of life over to the
Negroes. It was a natural inclination, reinforced by the best
medical advice. And it was a point of pride: managing an estate
was more honorable (and still is thought to be so) than husking
coconuts. To be top crust in society was to be white, and to be
white was to be in the sedentary rather than the laborious
If the top crust of a community in the North had to marry
wholly within itself and could not dip down now and then for
the refreshment of middle-class or chorus-girl blood, would it
keep its bloom I wonder? But if the Jamaican top crust dips one
sixteenth of an inch beneath itself, it dips into the stratum of the
colored which dipping God forbid! For the Jamaicans are as
rigid in preserving the color line as the white Sabans are, even
though (unlike the Sabans) they are all but overwhelmed by their
Somehow the Saban color line seems more genuine and less
2O7 HOW TO LIVE TO A RIPE OLD AGE IN THE TROPICS
thankless. Where the tradition of honorable toil extends back to
the days when the governor himself made shoes, labor is innately
self-reliant. Blacks and whites both work in Saba: the color line
is a vertical cleavage. But in Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados, or the
other Negro isles, where the whites live on an indispensable foun-
dation of black labor, the color line perforce is horizontal.
Nassau, these years past, has been brightened by an influx of
well-to-do sunshine lovers and tax dodgers from the mainland;
the new immigrants are as white as snow. But will they whiten
I doubt it. Their coming adds to the existing top crust, true
enough, but this creates a thousand jobs, say, of the non-top-crust
kind. Cooks and garden boys are wanted. But few white Nas-
sauvians are available for such jobs; they belong to the best clubs
and if in need of wages are not willing to be seen anywhere but
in some office or swank mercantile employment. No, a thousand
blacks from Grant's Town over the ridge must be hired, where-
upon five thousand Grant's Town babies become economic pos-
sibilities. And such possibilities in the isles, believe me, are realities
very promptly. Fruitfulness is a natural people's joy. If white
employers of black labor flooded into Saba, Saba likewise would
be not whiter but more inky.
No, if we are not to be swamped in the tropics by the tropics'
own children, we must be militandy self-sufficient. Perhaps the
fact that Cuba and Puerto Rico are South European, dominantly,
is owing not to the relative kindness of the climate to a swart-
skinned people, but to the unprosperousness of these islands in
the West Indies' golden age: while such competently-managed
colonies as Antigua or Jamaica could afford to buy slaves to do all
tasks except those honorable ones reserved at the very top, the
ill-governed Puerto Ricans and Cubans had sometimes to con-
tinue as blacksmiths or coffee pickers. The honorableness of labor
MANY A GREEN ISLE 208
was in a measure preserved as it was fully in North European
St. Barts, Saba, Cayman, and Harbor Island.
Such at least is my theory. And while busy weaving it, I have
learned something about my own island, I perceive not merely
that it could be white if I should decide that would be nice, but
what my life must be on it to enjoy it to a ripe old age. Nine
bean rows will I have there, well-hoed, and a hive for the honey-
bee; when I sink into my hammock in the bee-loud glade and
revel in indolence, I shall have earned my rest.
SAILING WITH FATHER
IROBABLY THE BEST BOOK ON THE WEST
Indies with a sigh I say this is also one of the oldest, Pre
Labat's Voyage. With another sigh I must admit I haven't read it
all: it is one of those roomy works, rich in curious observation,
that only the island life gives time to read. But excerpts have
brought me some knowledge of this future fun, on rainy days
among my books, as well as a strong present sense of the reality
of the author.
Pere Labat was a man of parts. He was a missionary priest and
naturalist, a military man who counted guns on the sly in British
ports, and a businessman who, having picked up shoes in Saba and
silks dumped in St. Thomas by Captain Kidd, resold them at a
good profit to his Martinique parishioners. But under the cassock
of this paragon and behind his hawklike eye, was "an extremely
witty, charming, and companionable person." His picnics were
models of alfresco hospitality, served in the manner of his friends
The notorious Captain Daniel, in fact, was Pre Labat's crony.
Rather than kidnapping some priest during a voyage to say Mass
on his ship, the captain found it handier and pleasanter to take
MANY A GREEN ISLE 2IO
one along who loved to go. And this missionary loved it. The
buccaneer had his religious side, the priest his sporting side, the
upshot of which was that they enjoyed and understood each other.
Thus in Guadeloupe at the Cafe Greaux in Pointe-a-Pitre, it
was music to my ears to hear that the schooner Pre Labat was to
sail next day on a round trip to Marie Galante. The Fhe Labatl
think of that! Jean Gr6aux's wine, at six cents the big ice-cooled
glass, fired the enthusiasm in my heart. Was the captain's name
Daniel by any chance? And with a wallop my fist smote the table
top. Here, gentlemen, sat an intending passenger.
Our Minnesota sailor, meanwhile, had been enjoying life
ashore. I liked the color of Pointe-a-Pitre: iron roofs, dust, shut-
ters all blended in one calm blue-gray. Against it the Madras
handkerchiefs of the women's turbans glowed like jewels.
Then, the old piety of the city took me. I watched the cathedral
bell ringers in their shorts, climbing the ropes monkeylike to time
funeral peals. It seemed an antique innocent-hearted way of send-
ing a soul to heaven. Or I followed the woman who tended the
shrines along Gosier Highway: from rock cavity to hollow tree
she hobbled, adjusting die statuettes and putting fresh nosegays
before them day by day, and at night set votive lights to swim-
ming in cups of oil.
Moreover, the ease that descends on a French-governed place
where color distinctions are not so ever-present a bogey I found
very relaxing as usual, and would peacefully watch mixed-tint
soccer games in the park, while some pale-skinned young mother
on the bench beside me happily bounced her dark-skinned baby.
Sandbox boughs rustled overhead,* seltzer bottles squirted at the
sidewalk tables of the Richepanse and Tulipe Rouge. But the
Cafe Greaux was the bright spot in Pointe-a-Pitre for me because
in it I was not looked upon as a stranger.
* This tree's fruit reminded the old colonists of the sandboxes on their desks, from
which they sifted sand on fresh-written sheets to dry the ink: blotting paper had
not then been invented.
211 SAILING WITH FATHER NOAH
I had arrived in Guadeloupe full of anxiety and quinine. It was
even soggier than I had been told; the sky split, that dismal hour;
rain poured like Niagara, incessant thunderclaps bombarded the
gray iron roofs. But then all at once the attack was over. Dry-
clothed, I went back to the quays to watch the storm retire, where
very promptly Ferdinand Brin and I found ourselves looking at
each other in pleased surprise.
Ferdinand was the young mariner who had sailed me from
St. Barts to Philipsburg in his little boat. He had shipped to
Guadeloupe, however, on the square-topsailed Javelin, to do a
little business and enjoy the girls. It was the hour set for the
Javelin's return now, but both of us knew how little that meant.
There was plenty of time for a reunion.
The Cafe Greaux, into which he ushered me, I had passed on
the way down, never guessing it was to be my haunt. It is not
the great who make me shy, but the rowdy: coarse repartee in
half a dozen languages was the specialty of this sailors' roost. But
the sad-eyed proprietor, like Ferdinand, so I found, was St. Barts
born; when he learned that I had visited Des Cayes, his native
village, Jean seized both my hands in his: here was not so much
a patron as a messenger from home.
After Ferdinand had gone, with a red wine stain across his lap
for a souvenir of our parting, I continued to frequent the place.
Its ornamental store of bottled goods, piled from floor to ceiling,
set off my temperate habits as neatly as the city's gray mono-
chrome did the girls' gay turbans. To rest up after one walk or
another, while I swigged a glass, I'd spread my map out to plan
the next, glancing up now and again through the two thick-
arched doors to admire the market scenes over the way.
My map had been bought with some difficulty from a book-
seller who thought it cost too much. However and I went back
to comfort her with the news it paid for itself the first time I
unfolded it at Jean's. The Swedes and Panamanians went on play-
MANY A GREEN ISLE 212
ing dominoes, of course, but the local tars to whom chart naviga-
tion is a thing unknown gathered in an enchanted circle. To see
the rocks and headlands they had steered around all their lives
spaced on paper exactly to scale and in reference to one another
made them cluck like hens. "So God must see Guadeloupe from
on high!" one roughneck babbled.
Disputes of long standing were settled on the spot, and the
point of a sailor knife traced various eventful trips: around the
"Souffleur" to Moule, to Basseterre the capital, or the cluster of
the Saintes cruising among which last named isles the white
fishermen wear hats shaped like parachutes, and Captain Daniel
in his day (Pere Labat not being with him) had kidnapped the
priest to discharge his and his crew's Sunday obligation.
Or, round as a pancake, here was Marie Galante, to which
island my schooner was to sail. Jean's uncle, a sort of port gazette,
discussed the venture with me. The captain was not named Daniel,
no, but a fine man, a very fine man; he came from St. Barts in fact.
And the Pre Labat had an auxiliary engine. With such a skipper
and such a ship, it would be a voyage de luxe. Departure was at
At sunrise, punctually, we sailed. The plural pronoun was full
of meaning. I had come down an hour earlier to insure having
a good place aboard, but in the dim light of dawn seemed to be
seeing double at least.
It had been a poor night for rest. Dance music, not far away,
had lulled me at first, but when the party was over the musicians
were wound up too tight to stop. A bedroom "jam" ensued
213 SAILING WITH FATHER NOAH
across the court, which made me rouse myself to jot scraps of
tunes. Thrillingly spontaneous, here was a feast of island jazz
almost at my elbow.
Presently, however, the plain bread-and-butter of silence would
have suited me better. If I was to get up at daybreak I wanted to
be fresh. But freshness continued to be these tooder's resource,
hour after hour. In fact their vigor mounted until at last from
a dense climax of trills they broke to a suddenly tired coda of
freak caterwauls: the feast was done.
Silence's bread-and-butter which came after proved to be not
wholly a metaphor. In his pajamas, here was the waiter laying a
tray of it, with cafe-m-lait, faithfully on my bosom. Time to get
up, damn it! "Many thanks," I told the pest, grimacing a smile.
But the coffee cleared my cobwebby brain, as I knew it had
when I looked at the schooner a second time. Double vision, my
eye! Scrutiny suggested, rather, that here was Noah's ark after
the deluge was well in progress, and all Israel had begun clamor-
ing for rides; except that this time the multitude was being wel-
comed entire, together with household effects, musical instru-
ments, and domestic animals.
Should I go or stay? The rim of a bass horn in my ribs prodded
the doubtful sailor forward: inch by inch the horn player and I,
and the rest of us yet earth-bound hopefuls, edged toward the
gangplank and slowly up it, snatching the switched tails of strug-
gling calves from our disgusted mouths. From hand to hand an
endless series of baskets was passed forward of cardboard suit-
cases, trussed-up fowls, sacks of breadfruit. The schooner had
settled almost to her scuppers already. Perhaps and it was a
comfort to imagine it she'd sink before casting off.
"This is a pleasure-trip I'm taking," I told the man with the
horn. We had found a square foot of space, each, to stand in,
forward by the forecastle hatch. "Very fond of sailing! ".And
at that moment the sun peered through a rift in the vermilion
MANY A GREEN ISLE 214
clouds, to gild to thek summit the vast slopes of the Soufriere
across the bay. The church bells clanged, the harbor waves
danced, and the Ptre Labafs engine, which would take us out,
competently began to hum.
Mangrove isles marked the harbor entry, here our sails were
raised. When the canvas shook out its towers of radiant and
whopping curves, so complex and yet so natural, it was curious
to recall that the New World had been discovered before the art
of tacking. From Phoenician times to King Henry VIIFs, ships
had either to sail with the wind or be rowed which fact makes
it easy to forgive Columbus's crews for their bellyaching, when
the northeast trades day after day blew no way but away from
Thanks to the English discovery, we now sailed into the wind.
Glorious! As well as I could, without cracking some black jaw
with my head, I leaned back to quaff lungfuls of salt sea air. But
my friend with the horn sent his instrument below and his friends
sent theirs: they had brought saxophones with them, clarinets,
guitars, and drums. In fact, here was the very band that had kept
me wakeful. I was awed to learn it. And then they took off thek
shirts and shoes to be stowed in the forecastle by the mousse and
rolled trousers up, as did the rest of us crowded young blades on
the forward deck. It made drainage easier when a wave broke
through our legs, the schooner having wallowed too deep wholly
to surmount steep ones.
"I want to lie down/' moaned the tired horn player, letting his
weight roll back among the crush of the rest of us. But then a
sheet of salt spray smote him, as it did us all; he broke out laugh-
ing and shook the water from his ears.
Good humor was the rule for an hour or two. The Pointe des
Chateaux, though distant, kept the trans-oceanic sea swells in
check. Amidships, to be sure, the black gkls, well supplied with
basins, were already vomiting in one anothers' laps, and the live-
215 SAILING WITH FATHER NOAH
stock vented its distress in various grunts, bleats, bellows, squeals,
and ordures. But the day was fine, the seas magnificent; our sails
bellied in the grand Aeolian style. The captain, packed among the
elder passengers astern, seemed to tower among them and, Noah-
like, to preside.
After awhile I felt less cheerful. In New York one year I had
made the mistake of living at the other end of a subway ride, and
had read Pepys' Diary, complete with correspondence, crammed
daily into a space even smaller than that occupied by me now. But
no trip that year had kept me clinging to a strap for five mortal
hours, shooting pains in my shoulder blades and foot bones break-
ing. And the subway, though it left Pepys the filthiest row of
volumes that ever disgraced a library, had not doused me with a
bucket of cold brine every second minute: cleanliness on the new
terms seemed to be bought too dearly. Nor had the stale sweet
subway smell bothered me much, which could not be said for
the gusts of cockroach and old onion that the forecastle now
began to yield. One whiff more could I stand it?
No. Nor could the jazz band. From their black and my sun-
burnt red we all turned green together. Way was made for us
somehow to the rail, over which, first knee-deep in the scupper
wash, then raised like hollow-eyed gargoyles spouting from a
chapel roof, epitaph writer and tootlers joined in a common
There was some satisfaction, however, in being the last to suc-
cumb. Under the taut-stretched watch chains of the captain's
friends astern, substantial bellies had quaked long since. The
chickens were in a stupor. The pigs were in a frenzy. The women,
like wax figures heaped higgledy-piggledy in a too-hot store-
room, sagged one against the other; their very cheeks seemed to
melt and hang. The poor children lay as blue as corpses. With a
sudden spasm of historical understanding, I thought of the voyages
MANY A GREEN ISLE 2l6
of slave-ship days: it had been no unusual thing, once, to dump
out a fourth part of such "cargoes," dead on the way from Africa.
Around our own heavy tub of woe, the seas that had swallowed
the victims of those old frightful journeys were as innocently blue
as ever. Pell-mell from hill to hill of lapis lazuli the The Labat
drove, gallantly and (by a squeak each time) triumphant. Noah,
our captain, stood staunch and admirable; the cook and the
mousse, his sons, went about their work as if our world were level,
stationary, fragrant, dry, and spacious.
Noah's boys had grown up in St. Barts at a place called Salines,
where the very land industry is evaporating sea water to make
salt.* Broad-browed, wkh yellow locks that had often to be
brushed back from their shy gray eyes, they wore tall-crowned
Cha Cha hats and blue-striped Cha Cha clothes. In fact they were
true St. Bartians. "Ti Bknc" the black passengers called one or
the other indiscriminately -"Whitey," for a French Negro can
speak so to a white boy without being, or being thought, presump-
tuous. But the mousse, aged twelve, actually was named Marcel.
Like an acrobat he walked tightrope about the ship, carrying to
his father the coffee that his brother made or answering calls from
the bellowing black engineer and purser.
Albert the cook was two years older, a being of enviable
serenity. 'While Marcel rolled up in a tarpaulin and held it tight,
he turned his back to be drenched, with the fortitude of indiffer-
ence. Amid pandemonium, pukings, and sheets of spray, this
fourteen-year-old cranked his coffee grinder.
The galley he used, built against the foremast, was a not-large
box with two hatch lids on top and in front two sliding panels.
When the spray came down in bucketfuls, lids and panels invart*
ably had been closed; but then promptly they were opened for a
jiffy, and culinary enterprises were pursued.
*This West Indian industry once ranked very high, supplying the salt for the
North Sea herring fisheries. One British colony, Turks and Caicos Islands, still depends
wholly on it, shipping out over a hundred thousand dollars worth of salt per annum.
217 SAILING WITH FATHER NOAH
One lid and panel gave access to a fuel bin and larder. There
were sacks of provisions in it, French bread, kindling, and a half
pound of lard scraped on a sea-grape leaf. The other compart-
ment held the fire and tinware. As usual in the tropics it was a
charcoal fire in a coal-pot, burning with flameless faithfulness.
Steam from the coffeepot or boiling lentils, or the strong scents
of codfish or bully-beef hash would ooze out of the lid cracks
when the box was shut. And the wonder was, that these scents
began to make me hungry.
But the change was no wonder, really. Breakfast was six hours
gone now, a French breakfast too, and lost before assimilated.
Moreover, we had entered the lee calm of Marie Galante: lapis
lazuli billows gave way to shallows of rippled turquoise. The
children started to suck mangoes again, even the sickest of the
black girls opened an eye.
At St. Louis, in a tumult of relief, enough passengers and live-
stock were sent ashore to give the rest of us space to move. Oh,
luxury! to have a strip of gunwale for my own, and to ease my
stiff pins to a sitting position! Jean's uncle had spoken well. It was
a voyage de luxe. What a radiant day! What a green, green isle!
with a lunch at Grand Bourg in delicious prospect, to allay my
hunger pangs and slake the thirst that was making my tongue
feel like the cushion in an old plush chair.
But the physical ease of that hour's ride to Grand Bourg was
matched and canceled by its mental stress. Now that the turmoil
was over, the mousse decided to make friends. He conquered his
shyness, turned his hatbrim up and, searing himself cross-legged
on the deck, plied the American with questions.
Obligingly I ransacked the assortment of French odds and ends
in my head, those little noises which strung together can have
innumerable meanings or none whatever, depending on how you
string them. Like a tired rat out of a dark cellar, I came up again
and again with the biscuit of a sentence in my teeth each time
MANY A GREEN ISLE 2l8
more pleased with myself but also more exhausted. Family, pro-
fession, home, and hobbies were discussed, and the sports of a
Minnesota winter. Fox-and-geese heavens, what energy was con-
sumed in the describing of that back-yard game!
But the mousse was helpful, quick, and interested, and con-
stantly gave me the relief of other exercise, namely, following his
remarks. Bit by bit Salines came to life in his report of it, with
rose-colored ponds behind the house saltier than the sun-smitten
blue bay in front: in blinding crystallinity the salt crust at last
was ready to be raked. He played the tambourine, did I? And his
travels had taken him as far as St. Thomas already, it was the part
of "my country" that he knew. Guadeloupe, I then learned (not
half Rhode Island's size) was the largest land mass yet seen by
this young mariner.
Albert, scrubbing salt fish meanwhile, frowned and listened.
The responsibilities of age gave him scant time for talk. Another
cook aboard, however, protracted the linguistic chores. Creole
French was his variety, which made MarcePs Norman seem
I required a valet, of course, he told me, appraising my mussed
clothes with a cocksure eye. A valet who could mix rum punches
or whip up an omelet would be especially handy; a bodyguard,
too, was worth having in this gangster age f or instance, a black,
tough, ugly son of a gun like himself. Moreover for he now
strenuously proposed his candidacy he wanted very much to
live in the North where, thanks to certain superiorities in his
sexual physique, he felt that in his spare time he could add hand-
somely to the small pay that was all he'd require from me. With
an impetuous gesture, he offered to show me what he meant.
Appalled, I yet managed to inquire banteringly if he could
furnish references. But certainly! The house of ill fame where at
present he was in service would be delighted to get rid of him.
219 SAILING WITH FATHER NOAH
No kindness would be too great for Madame in this long wished
"You believe in frankness," I said, giving him a tap, whereupon
the rhinoceros-hide of his cheek was wrinkled by a wink. But
then reviewing his past more thoughtfully he heaved a sigh. It was
perfect training for a valet. His knowledge of affairs of the heart,
for instance, not to mention the more technical side of love . . .
and so on; after a half hour of listening to which talk and re-
lieving it with struggling levity, I had a headache like knitting
needles skewered through the brain.
Food! food! and silence, and a plank to lie on! The wish burnt
my soul up like a paper doll in a furnace. "This man bores me,"
I wearily told the mousse.
"You too, sir!" he rapped back, suddenly deciding not to be
my valet. Marcel rolled over in a fit of laughter, and the jazz band,
with shirts now on again, broke into tired applause.
Grand Bourg is no great place. One street as blue-gray as any
in Pointe-a-Pitre led toward the church, in which broad peaceful
building I soon stretched out for a moment of grateful solitude.
In mysterious silence and the half-darkness, the saints painted
primitively on the walls seemed to confer and shuffle.
"Grand Bourg" what a name! These West Indies had had
much bad luck of the kind: the British peppered them with
George Towns and Charles Towns, and the French, from whom
MANY A GREEN ISLE 22O
something more spritely might have been hoped, had been con-
tent with Big Bay and Little Hole, High Ground and Low
Ground very often. Luckier were the places Columbus chris-
tened, this island for one Marie Galante named for the com-
fortable flagship of his second voyage.
Over the door to Grand Bourg's one eating place was a fre-
quently seen island name, Schoelcher. Not pretty, it yet had
meaning. After Napoleon had clamped back on the isles the
skvery that liberte, egalite, and frttternite had just removed for-
ever, revolution tore it off again in Haiti: that was one story. But
in the other French islands Schoelcher of Martinique in time re-
won freedom by more parliamentary means.
The Restaurant Schoelcher seemed no great credit to the man.
In the French colonies the cuisine is seldom a match for the
mother country's, 'and so differs very much from British cooking
which, no daisy at home, comes to its true flowering when trans-
planted.* Today's lunch, moreover, was to be not merely sub-
average but the Worst Meal of the Year.
However, this desolating fact was not revealed at once. I felt
very hopeful when I sauntered in. A decanter of rum stood on
every table for a welcoming touch, and the cook was the fattest
Negress not yet in a circus. Water, plain water, was what I asked
for first, and she brought it, a creepy gray liquid that made my
gizzard turn. Rum seemed safer, decidedly. Likewise she brought
her baby to be praised; but the poor tot, to whom all white males
were The Doctor, fell down with a whop three times on her
screaming flight to safety.
Upon this exit, the jazz band rollickingly burst in. Could these
be my recent shipmates, limp, seasick, worn to ravelings? At a
rum-shop nearer the wharf they had reflated to dizzy life again,
like flies swatted but not really smashed. Shirttails whirled, glasses
* The cooking at the South Camp Road Hotel, in Kingston, Jamaica to mention
one not-expensive, long-famous, and readily accessible eating place retains die true
British "plain'' quality, but amid how delightful a profusion of new tropical graces!
221 SAILING WITH FATHER NOAH
banged, affection was effusive. And like a jovial ape swinging in
on a liana, here came my black cook friend from the ship, again
anxious to be hired. He was more lewd, more noisy, and more
nagging than ever. My head reeled with the rum and the excite-
As for the lunch and I looked at my portion of it like a man
peering down a cliff it was uneatable. With greasy gusto the jazz
band messed in theirs, however, and pelted one another with dry-
sucked fish heads. Then, full and joyous, they snatched up their
instruments and fell to tootling. It brought all Grand Bourg push-
ing in at the doors.
What a spectacle! What a rare chance in an unheard-of sea-
port! Teeth glistened, thumbs snapped, within slimsy clothing
lithe bodies swayed in overmastering rhythms. And here sat I,
heavier than a tombstone.
Implacably, meanwhile, the Pre Labat was cramming herself
again with goods and people. The return voyage impended hers
and mine, God be merciful! Must I, could I, rise and force myself
through crowd and music, and so to a goal so hateful? On my
sunken head the jazz rained ever more stupefying blows.
It was strange, thus, to observe how my fibers did their duty.
With firm somnambulism I paid the bill, bade the fat cook and
the pornographic cook adieu, and marched right down to cook
number one, young Shem, and Ham the mousse and their father
Noah. Like some harrowing movie rerun for my special benefit,
here was the seagoing subway crush again, with its calves and
hogs and chickens.
But now grief ended. I had a place to sit this time, thanks to the
mousse } s interest. The wind was with us; the coffee steam smelled
good from first to last. And so as the fact that I tell about it
proves my day's sail was not fatal after all. My one complaint
is, that lacking Pre Labat's power of wit I can't be sure of
having made the anecdote worth the pains.
GO O SE FLESH
IS GOOD LUCK WOULD HAVE IT, I WAS
in American St. Croix for the Fourth of July.
Flag Day also had found me on American soil, bosom filled
with uncommon fervor. But there in St. Thomas my bosom
swelled daily at 8 A.M., when punctually a bugle blew in the
little red fort and through the window I'd see Old Glory being
raised to ripple against the blue. It was an event highly inspira-
tional, always, to a patriot not yet out of bed.
Cousins of my mother's, the Holmes of San Juan, had come
over for the ceremonies during which Old Glory was flown for
the first time from that flagstaff. It was 1917; the islands had been
bought from Denmark; the exchange of sovereignty was to be
made. "My dear," exclaimed Cousin Margaret, telling me about
it, "it was terribly sad. I cried as if I were at a wedding."
She and Cousin Fred, in fact, had been moved both by the
day's deeper meaning and the danger of falling off the roof to
which they had climbed for a bird's-eye view. However, other
thoughts came to mind. They had been in Santiago de Cuba when
General Wood relinquished the reins of government into Cuban
hands, at which solemn hour a brass bell was snitched from the
223 HORSEFLESH AND GOOSEFLESH
general's desk for a souvenir. After mentioning this to the Bishop
of Puerto Rico who was seated between them on the roof, and
telling him how she still used it to call the maid, Cousin Margaret
wiped away a tear with the corner of her handkerchief, thinking
of the happiness of other days; the band played; and presently the
Danish pennon was furled and Old Glory was run up in its stead.
Bishop Collymore, it was then announced, would pronounce
Bishop and cousins alike were thunderstruck. The call was not
merely unlooked-for but acutely inconvenient. It would take his
lordship ten minutes, at least, to reach the rostrum. "Stand up
and say it here; we'll keep hold of your coattails," Cousin Mar-
garet was inspired to urge. And so he did, teetering heroically
to a balance. Thus with relatives of mine playing a vital part in
modern history, the episcopal phrases descended as from one
already halfway to the Throne of Grace.*
St. Croix, though properly no part of the Virgin Islands, was
purchased by the United States at the same time as St. Thomas.
It had been on the auction block before. In 1733 Denmark bought
it from France, Louis XV being in need of cash to wangle the
throne of Poland for his father-in-law Stanislas Leszczynski. The
ceremonies of that earlier sale were curious. A candle was ex-
tinguished and relighted, plants were uprooted and replanted,
stones were flung, brook water was tasted. These rustic doings,
however, were seconded by no coronation pomps in Cracow.
Money spent, Louis and Stanislas were left sucking their thumbs.
France had acquired the island from the Knights of Malta; its
previous history had been a long dogfight between rival claimants.
Nor did the Danish purchase fix the character of the place. Straw-
* Another Holmes cousin, while managing the United States Steel Corporation's
. mines at Daiquiri in Cuba, entertained a party of bigwigs from the New York office
by setting cakes of ice in several tubs, and filling in with sugar, rum, and lime juice.
The bigwigs had a delightful stay at Daiquiri, since which date the mixture in the
cocktail form has been called by the litde town's name in many parts of the world.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 224
berry-red forts on the best Hans Andersen model were built, to
be sure, but it was the British sugar planters who settled what
language and manners were to prevail for which reason it
seemed no alien colony, really, to Alexander Hamilton, when
he sailed over from British Nevis as a boy.
"A boy!" Poor Hamilton, his boyhood now came to a sudden
close. At thirteen, when he should have been flying kites, he was
managing a supply-house branch in Frederiksted; at fourteen,
while employees of normal age failed to hide their indescribable
dismay, he was put in charge of the main office in Christiansted.
An infant prodigy in business is a prodigy indeed; but special
oddness is given this footnote to business history by the fact that
it deals also with an island that twice has had its nationality altered
by commercial means.
Near Hamilton's first stand in Frederiksted is the Strand Club,
where over a lime squash Judge Coulter was so kind as to draw
on his rich fund of anecdote for my amusement. Sometimes an-
other listener joined us on the gallery, a gentle Kentuckian named
Wallenwood who looked as if he had strayed out of heaven by
mistake. The youthfulness of the two of us, and the view of
lighters unloading some freighter from the great outside world
reminded the Judge of his own young days, of school in Scotland,
and treating the band in Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens to a
princely round of drinks. Playing the role of planter's son from
the romantic Caribbees had been, we enviously perceived, a picnic.
This much loved island, too, had been a happy scene for youth.
We heard of shrimp hunts in streams among the endless sugar
cane, of steeplechase rides over the south coast flats, and of balls at
Government House, where marble busts in the style of Thorwald-
sen stood on the staircase parapets.
Then there were harum-scarum sloop trips to tell of, to Santo
Domingo in its wild old times. The jail at San Pedro de Macorfs
had struck him as extraordinary a sort of wigwam built around
a mahogany tree in whose shelter the prisoners, freed by day to
225 HORSEFLESH AND GOOSEFLESH
beg their food, slept chained to staples sunk in the bark. It was a
description that paired well with the Holmes' account of the
hospitals of old Cuba, in whose wards, when Cousin Margaret
was brought down to install modern arts of nursing, she found
die patients' chickens tethered to the legs of the beds.
An anecdote of an auction sale at which he had wielded the old
official hammer of solid silver, led on to the grander tale of the
American purchase of the islands: the Judge had been one of the
Crucians called to Denmark to safeguard local interests when the
terms of transfer were being drawn. For a long time the United
States Navy had had its eye on St. Thomas's and St. John's famous
harbors; the Imperial German Navy, the same. There had been
negotiations. But now that the Panama Canal was open to traffic
and submarine warfare was making everybody mad, Uncle Sam
signified his readiness to snap the rubber band off his wallet.
After the price had been agreed upon twenty five millions
for Denmark's West Indies entire Egan, the American minister,
confided to the Judge that there had been forty to spend if neces-
sary. It was news to fret a Dane. However, since willy-nilly he
was to be an American himself now, rejoicing was perhaps in
order. His new fatherland's public debt would be so much the
less. "It was a handsome price, at any rate," the Judge finished,
"and a great game to watch ... the United States of America
bidding against the German Empire! "
"Oh yes," said Wallenwood in his gentle voice. But then he
fell to discussing, instead, the Independence Day races to be run
at Mannings' Bay*
The Judge was the Turf Club's timekeeper; he turned readily
enough from memories of international jockeying to the local
event. But Wallenwood's air of dreamy prescience nettled him
naming the winners in advance, as if being born a Kentuckian
were all it took to make a connoisseur of horseflesh. "And the
Puerto Rican mare?" he inquired with mild asperity.
Hereupon Wallenwood looked more angel-like than ever. He
MANY A GREEN ISLE 226
had mined for gold in Puerto Rico, and while at it had learned
all he needed to know about that island's horses. Then with the
lightness of interest characteristic of die fellow except when he
talked of prospecting, his passion, he changed the subject again
and wondered why it was that bullfighting had died out in the
This the Judge could explain. "Protestant right thinking, en-
forced by the Marines," he sighed; for the various American
military occupations had done the trick. Horse racing had sup-
planted bullfighting. And in Havana the pelota brought from the
Basque provinces had been aggrandized into jai alai no longer a
Spanish game but a Cuban spectacle. Sipping our lime squashes
peacefully, we recalled the bettors rising from their seats in waves
of joy or terrified anxiety, while the players, no less demonstra-
tive, flung themselves flat at a failure to return the ball or capered
into the air after a clever throw.
But the prime example of the gambling fever left by eighteenth
century Europe as its legacy to the isles, we agreed, was cock-
fighting. Especially in Haiti: recollection of the rickety arena at
Cap Haltien, the thatched Kenskoff shelter, rose to mind; either
one was the core of the sporting life of its community. Hats flung
on the ground in outrage, eyeballs protruding, such were the
signs of impending battle whereupon the cocks, plucked half-
naked already, lost still more feathers to settle whose money was
whose in the gabbling throng.
Cricket the Judge grieved to state had vanished from St. Croix.
No longer was the cry of "Well fielded, sir!" to be heard while
the ladies vehemently waved their handkerchiefs. Nor did he
find baseball a very engrossing substitute. It was a comfort that
the still-British islands still were true to the prince of games. And
in St. Kitts sure enough, not long after, I was to find the Leeward
Islands championship matches in full swing, with the streets full
of dapper colored-boy cricketers in blazers after tea, and the rest
of the world unable to eat, almost, for excitement.
227 HORSEFLESH AND GOOSEFLESH
But if St. Croix had not taken baseball to its heart as yet, Santo
Domingo had. "Strike one!" was the blast that had startled me
most, blaring from the republic's radios; it was blared in English,
too, though what came after was Spanish with a vengeance. In
Santiago de los Caballeros I had tried to see a game, but my early
arrival was an hour too late. With a thousand or two of others
thus, on roof, fences, or in roble trees, I saw what I could from
the terrain outside. Along the foul lines horsemen-spectators were
ranged like troops of cavalry. It looked very fine. And there
were horsemen outside with us, kneeling on their saddles for
extra height or leaping up wildly at tight spots in the play, as if
skittish flesh and blood weren't what they were mounted on.
"But Africa," Wallenwood thought to ask, "what fun has it
sent over with all these niggers? Just mischief with the women-
folks, I reckon."
This made me huffy. That very day, at the fort, I had found
the off-duty policemen playing cat's cradle as if they were their
West African cousins still playing string games. Nor had I ever
seen such top throwing as Tortola's, done by blacks whose ances-
tors had come from the backwoods where the gyroscope was a
native toy. As for wari and here my voice grew really loud
wari, the Dark Continent's own game, played on a board hollowed
out like a cash till, I had seen the Barbados unemployed busy at
it by the hour; in St. Lucia it was a pastime commoner than crib-
bage is in Minnesota. And what of dancing? and music?
The Judge, I suspect, found my discoveries less impressive than
comical; as for Wallenwood, he was already thinking of some-
MANY A GREEN ISLE 228
thing else. But when I went on to say that on an island of my own,
if ever I was to boss one, the non-scorekeeping games were to be
the ones encouraged, a more alert look dawned in his eye, and he
proposed for the two of us on the morrow that mildest of all
sports, going for a walk. Sure enough, with sandwiches in our
pockets, kindly made by Mrs. Coulter, we footed it all the way
to Ham Bluff lighthouse, bathing wherever the coves looked
tempting and pilfering fruit when opportunity offered, as it
At one place the marauders were shamed by being invited in
to taste "round" mangoes, a choicer kind.
"Welcome to Little La Grange," someone had written in prac-
tice flourishes on a blackboard in the room at the front corner of
the house: it was a reproach so kindly that it freed us of embar-
rassment. But the old room was a schoolroom no longer; the
children all were grown: saddles and bridles were stored where
they had spelled out their Hans Andersen stories. Behind it was
the laundry, with shallow tubs and linen bleaching by the door.
The spacious dining room ran through the house from front to
back; it was suffused with a cool green light like an aquarium's,
with the carved table and chairs at its center taking the place of
the fishes' castle.
As for the garden beside that clean Danish house, it was a
beauty. There were borders of violets, stairs to a hillside coconut
grove, and an old sugar cauldron brimful of waterlilies, with
guppies in the water to thwart mosquitoes' breeding.
The master of Little La Grange, who had called us in, bade us
make ourselves at home; the mistress, in a pink frock, and with
hair piled high under the blond braids that kept its loops in place,
strolled the paths to point out horticultural darlings. And under
a Caracas plum tree daughter Anna arranged a table with knives,
bowl of fruit, and green-sprigged plates: her way of doing it, in
which household competence was mingled with urbane grace,
229 HORSEFLESH AND GOOSEFLESH
caused the two guests to exclaim in admiration after we had taken
our leave. "The North transplanted to the tropics certainly can
be fine!" cried Wallenwood, enthusiastic for once.
The lighthouse keeper's household at Ham Bluff was another
study in transplanting. The keeper himself was a friend of mine;
that is, we had sailed over from St. Thomas on the same ship a
one-armed Puerto Rican very vigorous and jolly, who had told
me to stop in for rice-and-beans if ever I came out his way.
By ill luck he was not about to remember this when Wallen-
wood and I, sandwiches gone, tramped around to the wind-lashed
precipitous north coast. His wife and children were at home,
however, but could speak no English. It seemed odd, on an
English-speaking American island, to find a civil servant's family
in such a pickle.
Actually there was small cause for surprise. As the Danish pur-
chase of St. Croix led to its domination by British planters, the
American purchase is leading to its domination by Puerto Ricans.
With a crowded island so near an uncrowded one and both under
the same kind flag, there is no hindrance to emigration: over the
sloops hustle, with hookworm and malaria aboard for gifts to the
Promised Land, as well as the virtues of fortitude in die face of
difficulty and gratitude in the face of opportunity that a life "four
in one shoe" breeds in its children.
Thanks to the Puerto Rican chapter in his career, Wallenwood
was better able than I to be chatty with the lighthouse keeper's
lady. While the children fetched water for us from the sweating
jug, he entertained her with an account of his reopening of the
old gold mines at San German. It had been a fizzle as usual. He
was always picking away at Mother Earth, hoping she would
make him rich; it was both his vice and his profession.
At present he was broke. That was the hell of it, as he remarked
in his customarily mild tone. While we swam and sucked guineps
on the long walk home, he discussed his problem. A very small
MANY A GREEN ISLE 230
loan would solve it, he declared, to be paid back very promptly.
The molybdenum of Virgin Gorda, his latest try, had proved dis-
appointing; now he was headed toward something sure: the gold
fields of French Guiana. When mining grew wearisome there, he
could prospect for diamonds. With which proposal he darted a
quick and guileless look at me out of the corner of his eye.
"Let's ask for another drink, here," I countered, perceiving
why this day's outing had been proposed; we were just passing
a tumble-down plantation house.
Into the old slave quarters by the gates the Puerto Rican immi-
grants had swarmed; their rent money, as we could but guess, was
die estate's sole revenue. Everything was out of repair. The ter-
races were a wilderness of weeds and broken bottles, the slats in
the window shutters hung askew.
Our knock was answered by a young mulatto girl. Soiled
pajamas drooped about her slim body, as if she had not quite
decided to get up yet, at four in the afternoon. "This is Butler's
Bay?" I asked, to be sociable, after swigging a glass of lukewarm
water. But it wasn't. Butler's Bay was another ruined property,
behind us now. "That's where you stole the fruit," our benefac-
tress added, a smile of sly malice crinkling her eyelids.
Down the terrace steps we went. The mammee in my hand had
indeed come from that very place. And so, with studied dignity,
on past the courtyard's yapping curs, and through the gates where
the Puerto Ricans, encamped, were waiting for the old manage-
ment to rot to its extinction. "Looks like an early inheritance,"
said Wallenwood with a shiver.
He was pink and he was pretty but a deathworm haunted his
conversation. St. Croix, for all its wide sugar lands, rolling pas-
tures, magnificent old mahoganies, and sunshine, was worse than
a dungeon to the fellow. In a word, it was void of minerals. But
how could he get away?
I found myself fishing out a ten dollar bill by and by. It was no
HORSEFLESH AND GOOSEFLESH
small sum for a tombstone man to part with, but to Wallenwood
it obviously meant more than it did to me. In fact it made him
radiant. Of course he could not make Guiana with this, but at
least he could move one island nearer to the goal And on his next
stop on the road to El Dorado, his luck, since it could grow no
worse, very likely might grow better.
O i X
Next day was the Fourth of July. It also was a Sunday.
Religious scruples prevented the day's being celebrated much.
There were few flags, no firecrackers, no parade. And since
Americanism in St. Croix is both recent and involuntary, a little
carelessness in the regard with which the islanders accept the
blessing can be expected, I suppose. The Frederiksted Puerto
Ricans, Latin Catholics to whom Sunday would have been a
natural day for noise, also were models of restraint. Their own
island had been taken by the United States as indemnity at the
close of the Spanish-American War, which gave Independence
Day there an ironical flavor from the start.
The very sermon in church, where Wallenwood and I sat with
the Coulters, threatened to burn with a patriotism not quite whole-
MANY A GREEN ISLE 232
hearted. St. Croix's Anglican priesthood is as British still as it was
in the Danish times; our sermon was preached by an Englishman.
But Mr. Levo accepted the challenge with a rush. The toe of his
boot was planted in the seats of the pants of the chief current dic-
tators, one by one, in which order down they fell headlong from
their pedestals. It was hard to remember not to applaud. "From
every mountainside let freedom ring! " we then sang, fervor jacked
up by this British force.
All the same, it was only Sunday. Nor was the legal holiday that
followed much more of a proper Fourth. Overwhelmingly it was
On our trip out to Mannings' Bay Racecourse, Wallenwood
and I had our livers well jolted. We rode on a plank in the back
of a truck, crushed in with an uproarious load of Negroes rather
a lark for me, but Wallenwood's Kentucky blood pined for
society less humiliating. At the gate, too, he gave me a speaking
look; tickets to the Turf Club's enclosure cost a dollar and a half.
But I had not come out to devote my day to profitless decorum;
general admission was what I wanted, and when he saw there was
no expectation of anything grander, with a good grace he joined
me and the herd.
One race already had been run. Betting was in full swing. There
were no cramping pari-mutuel frills: people with cash to wager
went about waving it in the air and bellowing. It made a big
good-humored bedlam in which; since I was sober and amiable
and a white landmark easily found, I soon was being called on to
hold stakes. My pockets bulged with other people's money.
Wallenwood was among the first of these clients. He won on
White Shadow, and then on another horse whose name I have
forgotten. Shyly smiling, he remarked that he was putting my
ten dollar gift to work. Kentucky astuteness was rebuffed in the
next race, however; he lost on Ay Ay,* and across his face a frown
* This, by the way, was the island's Carib name.
233 HORSEFLESH AND GOOSEFLESH
fleetingly hovered. But his next guess, and he took triumph calmly,
was good again.
Meanwhile, lunch time had come around. Though the music
pumped out by an orchestra from St. Thomas did not flag for an
instant, the tumult of betting died away. White napkins were
unknotted from around baskets, platters were passed; nests of
enamelware pans were unlocked, and each pan was seen to contain
something good. Cheeks began to shine with chicken grease.
We had not thought to bring lunch with us, but there was
plenty to buy Danish beer and Danish ham, and roast pig, brown
and toothsome. Two-wheeled Crucian carts, shafts in air, were
heaped with mangoes, peanut brittle, and knob-ended crusty rolls;
in each tipped-up cart a salesgirl lolled, or from it leaned out long-
necked to hoot her prices. Under larger wagons, for the shade,
husbands cranked ice-cream freezers, while their wives, hats
clapped atop their turbans, strode about selling cones.* No one
needed to go hungry and no one did. It was Race Day, everybody
had come with money. Even the smaller tots, dimes in fists, by
midmorning had begun to shrill their odds among the bettors.
The pork and the beer and the glorious sunshine quite warmed
the caution out of me. Why not risk a dollar on Play Boy, a horse
owned in St. Thomas by a man I knew? Joe Petersen the owner
was a Viking from the old regime; his stately size, walrus mous-
tache, and deafness, made his saloon the most respectable in
Charlotte Amalie. Reliability was what he breathed; no doubt any
horse of his must do the same. The trouble with this race was,
however, that Joe's horse never got into motion. The groom
somehow neglected to let go; thus after one lunge and finding
himself held, Play Boy backed up.
Pandemonium! Had he officially run or not? In the Turf Club's
* To a gallant Northerner, these husbands would seem to be somewhat henpecked.
But among the island Negroes generally, as in Africa, "men are the producers and
women the distributors of goods." I quote from Melville J. Herskovfts's creatlv to
be valued Life in a Haitian Valley.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 234
enclosure across the track, where access to the judges' stand was
easy, it was soon known that he had not; but among the rest of us
the question had to be decided by brute strength and lung power.
The din was frightful. As for myself, I wished I had bet with
someone easier to lick. I shall only say this of my adversary, that
she was a. liar, a robber, and a ruffian. I let the dollar go.
Wallenwood was not so self-controlled. He had omitted to
wear a hat, and so was very sunburnt, and now he was fighting
mad besides. As a Kentucloan, he knew Play Boy positively had
not run. But the Negro with whom he had bet knew otherwise;
he was from San Juan, turf procedure had been his meat since
infancy. Besides, he had the louder mouth, louder by far; and his
pock-marked visage, like the tin horseshoe pinned on his tie,
emitted an evil gleam.
To my surprise, Wallenwood won the argument. He had ap-
peared to be at a disadvantage, even though in the right; but no,
the San Juan black gave in suddenly; and for a magnanimous ges-
ture Wallenwood accepted his odds on Lady Barbara: their bet
was increased and transferred to the ensuing race.
"She's the Puerto Rican," Wallenwood announced, after con-
sulting his card. "I thought so. That nigger sure is patriotic, risking
so much on a horse from home. Horses over there are small, I
reckon you could run a carpet sweeper over most of 'em." Then
with a nudge he added, "Guess Fll be able to get passage through
to Guiana, how!" And the sunburn that had given his anger dark-
ness brightened his smile to extra rosy.
Oakland, the defender, was a champion with an impressive
record. He was the Virgin Islands' darling. And he was my horse
too: via Wallenwood's pocket I had a ten dollar stake in his suc-
cess. When he was led out my heart beat in rhythm with the
crowd's own proud anxiety. But Lady Barbara likewise was a
handsome creature. "She's built larger than is usual over there,"
said Wallenwood, looking at her dubiously.
235 HORSEFLESH AND GOOSEFLESH
Since here was the day's chief event, mango carts were deserted.
The orchestra even ceased to play* To right and left along the
fence the throng piled in a Dutch dike of alert humanity, from
which, bug-eyed and openmouthed, the faces protruding turned
like sunflowers to follow the career of the two swift specimens of
The contest between these specimens was almost too much for
Wallenwood. In the press of the crowd I could feel his legs
weaken; and on his arms, hanging across the fence, gooseflesh
puckered the sunburn.
History seemed to swoop upon us. How could I watch so much
at once? first a look down the track, then one at the crowd
whose entreaties and supplicating gestures respectively rent and
thrashed the air, then a third at the on-surging bosoms of our fate's
Suddenly beyond the pound of hoofs the thud of one breaker
on a far reef was audible. But as. suddenly again the crowd's
paralysis broke into new tumult. The dike unpiled itself and
streamed away in whirling knots of arguers and mourners, to the
beer stands or private rum bottles to irrigate throats that disaster
Disaster calmed Wallenwood. "About a length and a half,
wasn't it?" he estimated in his usual voice; then drew himself up
to wither with a glare the San Juan Negro who had come for his
money. And the glare had its eff ect. The man was quite humble,
as he could well afford to be, judging by the small part played in
his winnings by my late ten dollars.
"This teaches me a lesson," said Wallenwood, riding home at
my expense. "After I have come back from Guiana, I'll buy an
annuity. These quick ways of making cash grow I reckon get a
man in trouble sooner than they put him on Easy Street."
"You lose on Oakland, too?" asked the woman squeezed in
MANY A GREEN ISLE 236
beside him. "Plenty people did. But these roll-eye Portoricans,
we going to hear them laugh. They coming home rich."
At this moment the truck stopped at Hogensborg Estate to let
off passengers. A dog had been killed in traffic at that point on
the road, its remains were immediately to windward. The ladies'
bags all opened and out of each came a handkerchief to be pressed
to its owner's outraged nose. Our driver kindly pulled forward
three yards. "That's better," sighed Wallenwood, and then re-
marked simply, "I have thirty-seven cents left now."
He spoke only once more on the remainder of the ride. Some
Puerto Ricans came by; their holiday clothes were ornate in the
Latin taste, and on the doors of their humming Ford, black-and-
white sport shoes were cocked in showy ease. In Frederiksted
there was to be a dance, toward which goal the party sped past us
like a happy bee aiming for a rose.
""Blessed are the meek,' " quoted Wallenwood cryptically;
"Some day they'll move into Little La Grange, too," he -added,
"like that other place where they were camping by the gates."
"Or Government House," said Judge Coulter, when I men-
tioned this prophecy to him. "About 1950, say. And why not?"
A HOTBED OF QUEENS
IADAME DE MMNTENON S GIRLHOOD
was f rost r bitten by the inability of her relatives to guess what the
future was to bring this prison-born orphan. No, she was a bur-
den, that's what she was; which start in life should have made
her final ascendency at Versailles rich in inner satisfaction. Her
girlhood, however, had had one chapter not without warmth.
Some years of it were spent in Martinique. Island dowagers, when
the news leaked out at last that she really had married the king,
nodded their heads and sighed, recollecting the mutual innocence
in which they had played dolls with her under the coconut trees.
Within a century Martinique was reveling in even thicker slabs
of the same chewy kind of gossip. A Trois Islets girl born, some
hinted, in a sugar mill married a squatty but clever Corsican
after her Martinique-born husband had been guillotined during
the Reign of Terror. The Corsican was in the army. Of course
the girl was Josephine and her second husband Napoleon, and
we know all about what happened. But to Martinique the story
was current news; every ship from Europe brought further details.
What a topic! Empress! Heaven help us! And from little Trois
Islets, of all places!
Nor was this the end of it. Hortense Beauharnais, child of
MANY A GREEN ISLE 238
Josephine's first marriage, became Queen of Holland.* Everybody
remembered her or tried to: such a pretty little girl, she favored
her dear mother, or some said it was the father. And then there
was Josephine's cousin Aim6e, at the mention of which name
chairs were hitched closer, because her story, no more difficult to
believe, was more tantalizing because impossible to verify.
Aimee had been born on the Atlantic side of the island; if Mar-
tinique was to pepper Europe with royalties, let all quarters be
represented. She was prepared for ladyhood in a convent in
France, but on her return voyage the ship and she with it were
taken by Barbary pirates. It is easy to believe that Josephine's
cousin was beautiful and that her Creole manners were lovely;
something about her awed her captors, at any rate, for they sent
her to the Sultan of Turkey as a gift. Through gates the most por-
tentous imaginable she vanished; and beyond them, when Jose-
phine's daughter was old enough to wed Louis Bonaparte, she had
reared a son old enough to inherit the sultanate.
But who could swear to the truth of all this? The pirates kept
no receipts for goods delivered; the harem was embalmed in
mystery. To this day Aime's story belongs on the list of island
puzzles, with Atlantis's theoretical one-time existence, and syphi-
lis's New World origin, and the Baconian hypothesis, most brain
addling of any.t
While Aimee's influence could have been felt, for example,
Turkey dispatched a permanent embassy to the French Directory;
the old regime in France, for all its prestige, had been honored
* Napoleon I was both her stepfather and her brother-in-law; Napoleon III was
t While I was in Nassau an elderly Boston lady chartered a plane, and loading it
with pickaxes, dynamite, and flashlight powders, flew over to Andros to unearth
Bacon's original manuscript of The Tempest, concealed there by him in a cave. But,
as it proved, she had derived the latitude and longitude incorrectly from the Tempest
cryptogram, as had happened once before, in Bermuda. What made this second fiasco
especially tiresome was, that she had interviewed the Colonial Secretary, to implore
him to have a man-of-war in readiness to transport her find to England.
239 A HOTBED OF QUEENS
with nothing grander than special envoys. Things cl la turque
soon were the rage in Paris; at a ball given in compliment to the
new ambassador, the ladies appeared in turbans. Better, Turkey
was an early power to recognize Napoleon's imperial status; cousin
Aim6e, from the anonymity of the harem, could at least urge that
gesture for her greeting.
Later news from France was received with distaste in Constan-
tinople as it was in most places. Napoleon's love for Josephine
burnt with authentic fire; it was one of the deep sources of motion
in his life. But another source was egoism: Josephine now was
forty-eight eight years older than himself and had given him
no heir; how was the world to guess the torture of uprooting his
heart must undergo to insure founding a dynasty for the empire's
benefit? No, the world jeeringly watched its upstart islander put
away a wife born on a merely more backwoodsy island, to marry
a royalty of the usual continental kind.
The Sublime Porte remained as sublimely inscrutable as ever.
Mahmud, however, the young sultan, came to terms secretly
with his country's inveterate foe Russia, in time to release the
Russian forces stationed at the frontier for service against Napo-
leon on his march to Moscow. Two months later the verified
news reached the emperor at Vitebsk. He was enraged. Why
had this pig of a sultan done exactly what history would lead
nobody to expect?
No one could say. Everybody backed out of harm's reach. But
Martinique gossip, remote and romantic, had its opinion.
It is tempting to wonder if that cold Russian campaign might
not have had another root of distress in the hot West Indies. The
tactics of the Russian high command were gruellingly inglorious.
First Tolly, then Kutusof disgusted his officers by making no
showy use of them or his huge armies. In fact there never was an
expulsion of the enemy less heroic or more successful than the
one directed by Kutusof, who snored through staff meetings and
MANY A GREEN ISLE 240
steered clear of marching up to be outwitted in open combat by
the prime military genius of the age.
Kutusof 's foxy inertia was probably original. I would not nip
one laurel from his brow. But he certainly had heard something
about Napoleon's sole previous imperial disaster, the expedition
sent to Haiti. It was while the revolt against France, caused by
the recommitment of the colonies to slavery, seethed again, that
Christophe (not yet King of North Haiti) remarked to one of
the expedition's generals: "If, instead of fighting, our system of
resistance had consisted in flight and in well alarming the blacks,
you would never have been able to overtake us: so said old Tous-
saint; no one believed him. We possessed arms; the pride of using
them was our ruin. These new insurgents follow the system of
Toussaint; if they persist in it, we shall have difficulty to reduce
The story is, of course, that they persisted, and won. In love
with liberty, a populace of one-time slaves, of whom a majority
had also been one-time freemen in Africa,* fought the last honest
fight of the French Revolution. And they fought it against that
Revolution's own world-conquering armies. When the French
soldiers heard the Haitians sing the Marseillaise, it must have
reminded them bewilderingly of what they once had been fight-
ing for themselves.
Napoleon's contemporary detractors believed that it was his
hope that some of these troops, too steeped in the old republican
enthusiasm to fall in with his future plans, might be purged by a
tropical campaign. If so, it was a hope only too well fulfilled. His
expedition was lost entire. The soldiers who escaped the Haitians
and the yellow fever managed to do so only by surrendering to
the British, who put them in Jamaican prison camps. Ten thou-
sand sailors, too, were lost to die navy; at Trafalgar they would
*Dessalines, the ferocious general who won the final victory, was born in the
241 A HOTBED OF QUEENS
have been a godsend. And the colony was lost besides. But who
could win battles when climate was the fortress and the enemy
was always rear and foremost and out of reach?
Who indeed? Not the great Napoleon, as Kutusof proved again
in Russia nine years later.
Christophe, left behind in Haiti, made as sure as he could,
when it came his turn to rule, that no new visit of the French
should deliver him to imprisonment and death as it had Toussaint;
he built a citadel on a mountaintop behind Cap Haitien, the very
symbol of distrust. More feminine, meanwhile, Martinique kept
for its souvenir of the Napoleonic era the & la turque headdresses
of Josephine's heyday and the gowns and kerchiefs fashionable
when she was a girl.
Max Beerbohm has pointed out that the liveries of one era's
servants repeat the style of clothing worn by high society in the
era previous. Such was true certainly in the French islands. Brun-
yas's engravings, made in the 1770'$, show the fine colonial ladies
wearing the very costume that was to be the badge of the next
century's house slaves: the full-skirted dress with its caught-up
train and luscious glimpse of petticoat, the foulard drawn around
the shoulders to be tucked in at the waist, the glittering earrings,
Turbans, it is curious to note, were not to come into fashion in
Europe until the Turkish embassy inspired Paris to adopt them for
formal wear; this was about at the time of Josephine's marriage
to General Bonaparte. The era of her girlhood, however, was
MANY A GREEN ISLE 242
marked in Europe by tremendous coiffures: hair was drawn up
on frames perhaps half a yard high, powdered, and decked with
ornaments. Such works of art were too elaborate to be rebuilt
daily; the wearers slept with them in situ.
The colonial ladies were ready to sacrifice comfort to fashion
as a rule, but in the tropics some things were out of reason. Still,
one must look top-heavy or be a frump which problem seems
to have been solved by inventing the Creole turban, built very
high indeed but removable. On the fronts of these creations they
pinned the same jaunty hats that the ladies at Versailles were pin-
ning on the fronts of their mounds of hair.
Except for these turbans, the mid-eighteenth century style in
Creole dress was beautiful. The Martinique colored women loved
it and never gave it up. Even in now-British St. Lucia and
Dominica, as well as in French Guadeloupe and its dependencies,
the gorgeous finery still is shaken out for fine Sunday wear. And
since by application of Beerbohm's law the turban in time de-
scended upon the heads that carried burdens, headdress propor-
tions came back to normal. It had long been common for the
slaves of both sexes to knot handkerchiefs around their hair, the
Fullahs and Senegalese among them having borrowed the habit
from the Arabs: the Negro women of most of the West Indies do
so still. But the French colonies are true to the fashions of the
eighteenth century in turbans as in dress, and Martinique, the old
hotbed of queens, is truest to them of any.
At the Riviere Madame fish market in Fort-de-France I loafed
to watch the mornings' style parades. The girls at the tables that
flanked the door wore frocks of modern cut, I was upset to see;
since the sun was hot they also wore broadbrimmed hats while
at their job of braiding little onions and peppers, parsley sprigs,
and other herbs into* nosegays to put flavor in the town's soup
kettles. But Madras handkerchiefs were tied around their waists
243 A HOTBED OF QUEENS
ready to be wound into turbans when work was done; and up
the walk between them, with the fishermen who trotted by with
live turtles balanced on their heads or baskets of crawfish, strode
women to whom it was still natural to dress picturesquely. It was
natural also for them to wear clothes well. There is little unmixed
blood in the island; a fortunate wedding of racial genes has fixed
the Martinique type: tall, slender, long-necked, large-eyed, with
neat features, perfect skin, and regal posture.
But weekday clothing was eclipsed by Sunday's. Nowhere in
the New World is more eye-satisfying raiment displayed than at
High Mass in Fort-de-France, and one of my Sundays there hap-
pily coincided with the feast of St. Louis, king and patron. It was
a religious event especially gala.
The choir girls wore purple turbans perched on their infant
brows and looked very cute. But in the rich-painted cathedral
with its torrents of organ music among the arches, and the tallest
silver-gilt bouquets in a forest above the altar, what I was looking
for was their young aunts and elder sisters. In a garden of gay
dressmaking and millinery I took my pew.
Madame X at my right wore a grande-robe of white sprigged
with green ivy leaves; the foulard drawn over her shoulders was
flowered white on pink; her turban, knotted high, with a further
knot of crinkly black hair drawn up and pinned against the back
of it, was of pink and green. It was a color scheme in accordance
with the laws of the fashion set down long ago by Lafcadio
Hearn. And so was that used by Mademoiselle Z at my left: her
grande-robe was of a maid-in-the-mist blue, her foulard, rose, and
her turban was of rose barred with mulberry; a necklace of gold
beads and earrings like bunches of small gold grapes added luster
to a costume already handsome. Mademoiselle A, in front 'of me,
wore a calendered turban of yolk-yellow plaid, that is, one folded
from a Madras so stiffened by a painting process that its shape
MANY A GREEN ISLE 244
was permanently fixed: here was the Creole version of the turban
made fashionable in Paris, first, by the embassy ball low-coiled,
ladylike, and formal. As for the Mesdames B, C, D, E, and F,
listening so devoutly to the French rhetoric from the pulpit, each
one was a study.
But, seated or kneeling, these artists in dress could not show
their attire to best advantage. It was afterward, while the postlude
thundered and the congregation melted away into the shuttered-up
Sabbath streets, that I got my most intoxicating eyeful of color
and drapery, whisking about from group to group and wishing
that people would disperse more slowly.
One haughty dame in voluminous gray silk richly damasked,
with train caught up over her arm to reveal a no less rich petticoat
of bright cerise, was too fine not to look at twice. I made a dog-
trot detour and, trying not to pant, met her as if by chance in
the Place Volny. The curly balcony ironwork cast shadows down
the walls and across the slatted blinds; the leafy square was filled
with Sunday calm. And toward me, full of grandeur, came
She looked as if she had seen me before, as indeed she had, two
streets back; her calendered turban inclined a fraction of an
inch when I bowed. As for her, she was a familiar figure to me,
too out of the old engravings.
Lafcadio Hearn, in Martinique in the i88o's, mourned the
passing of the island costume. Fifty years later I found myself
245 A HOTBED OF QUEENS
doing the same. The poets have so drilled it into us that loveliness
must perish, that Hans Andersen's rime,
Flowers fade fast,
But pigskin will last,
seems poor comfort for anybody but a tanner. By good luck, how-
ever, seemingly frail things can partake of pigskin's durability:
the headgear of these women, for example, must be fresh-tied
every day; what could be more liable to change? But the pigskin
of habit lasts; little ways of doing things have a wonderful per-
sistence in a people.
The Place Volny, for a parallel instance, seemed very Frenchy,
and it was the little details that made it so: the door handles instead
of knobs, the quoins, the ribbed roof tiles, even the flowing green -
script in which the milliner's sign was lettered.
Or the cathedral and I trudged back to take another look
what was it that made it seem so harmoniously in character? It
was no copy of any French church style that I knew; some disciple
of the builder of the Eiffel Tower had planned it, a high-arching
fabric of steel sinews, walled with glass. But its very loftiness was
French, and its site, close-hemmed by business streets. Besides,
there was something Gallic in the quickness of imagination with
which a tropical problem had been tackled.
Certainly there was nothing British about it. Grandeur rather
than coziness was the quality striven for; in my mind's eye, for
a contrast, up rose the paneling, box pews, and low sheltering
galleries of Antigua's long cathedral. Cane-fields might parch in
un-English Antiguan drought, it would be coconut cream, not
Devonshire cream, with the "sweet" at dinner, but in that home-
like room and God be praised for it, the colonials kneeling on
their hassocks things were as they should be. Moreover, in
Antigua as in Devonshire, or any other right-thinking (ie. British)
place, the church was in a churchyard. Such was the law of habit.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 246
Having made comparison thus far and reflected platitudinously
that architecture was society's dress as a group as the costumes I
had been admiring were the dress of it as individuals, I went on
to think of the islands' Spanish churches. Like an authoritative
benediction the walls of Santo Domingo cathedral closed in about
me: here was New World architecture old enough to be Gothic
of actual Gothic times. As the Emperor Charles V had given
instructions that it should, the calm pavement led away, bay upon
bay, to an apse where the altar frowned in richest sUver. And
into bell arches by the door the young campaneros swarmed, to
clash out at close range their pulse-dizzying peals: it was the
Hispanic way of ringing church bells, transferred unchanged
from the Old World to the Indies.
The general scheme of the structure was no less Hispanic.
Spain's way of building had been bred where the sun a large part
of the year was an enemy: thick walls, with few but lofty open-
ings, were the rule which rule, at once practicable in the tropics
has seen little alteration since first introduced. From the North'
on the other hand, where summer heat can best be relieved by
opening a building to the breeze, has come an architecture that
adapts itself to tropical temperatures by growing more and more
The British, whose habits put pigskin to the blush for durability
are soil puzzled to know how to make a bird cage cooler than the
world around it; in Grenada, for example, the windows, greatly
enlarged, have been boxed in with contraptions of slats (to keep
the glare out) through which it is impossible to look. But the
French islands, as half-Spanish Dutch Curasao did very early are
turning from slats and lattices to the insulated type of building
In Haiti, even, filigree is passe\ New construction is in the inte?-
national style, and its large plane surfaces and blocks and curves
at very well among the hibiscuses and mangoes
Rambling the Fort-de-France heights that afternoon for a
247 A HOTBED OF QUEENS
Sunday spree, I climbed high enough to look back on the slab
roofs of the new Colonial Hospital. All very neat! Contempo-
raneous with complete simplicity, the spread-out low group of
buildings took my eye. Why not use this style of my own day,
myself, when building my own island house? with a bougain-
villea vine on the top slab like a big red wig? And a view like
this! What a luxury! The great bay drowsed in the sun, with a
battlement of mountains on its farther side, and Trois Islets where
Josephine was born. On the near side were city and cathedral
spire, and Fort Louis tucked on the couch of its promontory like
a dowager duchess sound asleep.
Poor old lady of a fortress! as a young lady her virtue had not
been proof against British assault very often. For forts are in fact
feminine institutions if you subscribe to the male's being the
aggressive mechanism and the female's the defensive. Their role
is to guard the valuables in their care chastity, riches, arts, or
whatnot which enterprise it is that gives their watchfulness its
womanly repose. The structure of chief majesty in the West
Indies is no church nor palace, but that Amazon of a fort,
Liberty was what the Citadel was built to guard, but its enemies,
as it happened, had been bled too white to test it with a siege. In
Puerto Rico however, for an opposite kind of tale, San Juan's
Morro and its sister forts could tell of assaults repulsed, fit to put
any woman in a glow: their miles of ramparts, bastions, and dry
moats once ready, though stormed many times, were never taken.
In the maidenly art of self-defense they were the nonpareil. But
elsewhere in the islands as here in Martinique capitulation had
been more usual. The male masters the female in a natural world;
there was nothing out of the way in Fort Louis's having been
won now and then by a gallant foe. A gracious yielding after a
seemly struggle is romance's crown.
Nobody understands this better than the British. From Mar-
unique's great bay beyond the fort here, it was, that the French
fleet sailed to its destruction by Rodney in the Battle of the
Saintes. The Ville de Paris, de Grasse's flagship, was "washed over
with gold to the water's edge" it was a showy era, the Versailles
coiffures had just passed the zenith of their fantasticality. But
gilding was no match for the British admiral. By that day's victory
in 1782, his empire was saved from its threatened dissolution.
The calamities of George Ill's reign now were at an end. But
will you believe it, the British, though ranking this first among
naval battles in the Western Hemisphere, think more fondly of
their land defeat in St. Kitts two months previous. The point is
that the defense of Brimstone Hill there, was so game for a
monument to which useless fortitude the hill's fortifications pose
grandly to this day, while British tourists "snap" them.
The loss of Diamond Rock, a fortress island off the south coast
of Martinique, is another tale loved by the British. Defeat in this
instance gave the navy's most idyllic episode just that turn of
tragedy necessary to make it classic.
That war can have its idylls is troublesome to admit. I should
prefer to have it stink throughout, and so excuse my inclination
to write essays while other people bleed. But history does not
flinch from exposing its unseamy side; for like the "remnant of
249 A HOTBED OF QUEENS
justice" that Socrates saw was what enabled the unjust to work
together, it is humanity that makes possible the organizing of
inhumanity, and in doing so gives war its ironic interest.
Certainly the first wars between West Indians and invading
Spaniards were a beautiful subject for the fresco painter. Amid
the strange blooms and masses of strange foliage of Hispaniola,
at La Vega in 1495, the first battle was fought, one army ranged
stark naked, the other glittering in burnished armor.*
Humor came into the wars, too, laughably as humor will. When
Morgan's filibusters were put to it on Old Providence Island to
keep the just-dispossessed Spaniards from returning, they loaded
the cannon with the church organ pipes and "let them have it"
a bombardment which was, as we would say, a scream. Or even
the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, enforced in the islands
by Victor Hugues, had its facetious side. The Martinique belles
could dress in cotton prints sprigged modishly with blood-red
Slaughter, however, is the immediate purpose of the military
arts. It cost three hundred thousand lives to guarantee liberty to
the slaves of Haiti * country smaller than South Carolina. The
American Revolution was a lawn fete in comparison. Nor were
South America's wars of independence, though bad enough, any
such frantic holocaust. Bravely lending Bolivar military aid, Haiti,
between the two continents on its island, had to pay more bitterly
than either for its children's heritage. But during the era that
saw this agony come to somber triumph, the idyll of Diamond
Rock was at its prettiest.
Diamond Rock's cannon were real guns that shot real death-
dealing cannon balls; its final defense was a dismal failure. But it
* The last European war in which armored knights took part had not yet begun.
The Age of Chivalry was past, however, as no doubt the Indians noticed. Firearms
were in use; and though the harquebus took three minutes to load and two to fire, the
fact that gunfire wounds were "treated" with boiling oil gave the new weapon special
MANY A GREEN ISLE 250
was an island, snug and small: Commodore Hood fell head over
heels in love with it and so did his officers and men. The inner
nook, of grotto-bound lawn and fig-tree thicket, was given the
name "Portland Place" in a surge of admiration.
The Navy's year-long occupancy of this rare picnic spot
even had its staff artist and historiographer. That the swinging of
ordnance from sailing ships to emplacements six hundred feet
above the billows was a hard feat to perform did not mean that it
also was hard to picture. But to do justice to the delightfulness
of the place was another thing: John Eckstein, flinging down his
pen, pronounced it inexpressible. But then like a good historiog-
rapher he took up his pen again, and particularized; and as the
roast joints and melons pass before our view, and we quaff in
imagination those abundant toasts in claret punch; and then, after
scanning the horizon with our mind's eye for enemy sail, see the
moon illumine the sailors' tents, and hear in our mind's ear the
gurgling of caves at water-line that made Eckstein's lullaby, we
know what sentiments swelled his bosom. It was a boy's dream
of an island, and what man would not find relish in living on such
a one, if a war gave him the chance?
But the Rock, loved like a girl itself, lacked womenkind. There
were jests made on the theme, no doubt, and inward wishes when
the njoon cast the image of fig leaves on the tent tops at night.
Martinique lay just over the channel, with its queenly women;
Josephine, the enemy's Empress, had been born not ten miles
away. Poor Empress! coarse jests were made at her special cost;
she soon was to be relegated to Malmaison, while Marie Louise
of Austria reigned over Europe with the conqueror.
Napoleon won Diamond Rock, true enough. But he was not to
go on conquering forever. He lost an army entire in the Haitian
try, and soon, and personally, was to lead a far vaster force into
Russia to be swaUowed up. St. Helena had begun to loom in the
251 A HOTBED OF QUEENS
Josephine, meanwhile, knew no true eclipse; she ruled im-
perially, though only over the greenhouses of her prison. "Hor-
tense," "the gardener," she had named her daughter; for a solace
she cultivated the hobby now herself. Gifts from well-wishers far
and near streamed in, of shrubs, and flowers, and exotic creepers,
till Malmaison was an island of things tropical in the French
countryside. After a revolution, the Napoleonic wars, divorce,
she was to die in a sort of New Martinique, her Creole charm
The poets' quick-fading loveliness is not illustrated by Jose-
phine's story. Perhaps she was exceptional. Madame de Maintenon's
virtues, on the other hand, were strictly leathery. Nor did they
fail her in her grand old age; her success had been too well earned,
every kiss of it, to decay. But earned love is not the final bliss. It
has the smell of duty in it. To be loved for loveliness as Josephine
was, and good islands are, is the only love that satisfies our craving.
When told one day that the Sun King's carp were sickening in
the royal ponds, "They miss their mud! " the great lady blurted.
It was a remark that jarred everybody's nerves unbelievably
out of character. But, who knows? despite her girlhood's indig-
nities she would have liked to live it over again, perhaps. Perhaps
in Martinique a second time, when she ran barefoot down rain-
soaked paths to look up into the opening skies, it would not be
with the snubbed child's determination to win all adult battles.
Defeat, too, can have its victories. And oh, the release sometimes
of being vanquished!
KING WILLIAM AND
iS IF THE FACTS OF HISTORY COULD
be confuted by mere brute lung power,
King William was King James's son,
All the royal race is run;
Wore a star upon his breast,
Point to the east and point to the west;
and so through to the final stanza, stamping like Cossacks. After
which back to King William again, and again and again, while
the little gray shack was rocked on its props by our energetic
circling. Whew! What exertion!
At the windows bkck faces grinned, shining, as our white ones
shone, in the light of a lantern hung from the ceiling beam. There
253 KING WILLIAM AND THE RUMBA
was a hole in the floor, but a bit of planking had been laid over it
to spare anyone's breaking a leg.
Little red 'wagon painted blue.
Skip to the loo, my darling,
we sang, kicking up heels. The loose board was as much of a
hazard as a safeguard in these skipping games. Then came "Honey
in the Dell" with its bold embracing, "In and Out the Window,"
"Gone Again," and a game of forfeits, after which the refresh-
ments were served.
Miss Gracie, my partner, was radiant. The party obviously was
a success; since she was one of the hostesses this was a load off her
mind. Beside, she was having a whale of a good time herself, and
so was I. In lemonade we drank the health of the guest of honor,
a contagiously jolly blond young man; he was going off by the
next mail boat to finish his education in the great outside world,
that is, in Nassau. Even when Miss Gracie dropped her cake, her
happiness was unmarred. She just cut another slice, while
"Where's Bob?" everybody cried, and in bounded a big woolly
loving dog; he ate up the fallen piece in a twinkling as well as
several other kind contributions.
When pitchers were dry and cake plates empty, the shack was
abandoned for a dance through the streets. Door shutters had
been folded in on the sleeping Harbor Islanders; the hurricane-
glass lights in King Street hallways had been extinguished. But
the sky was well spangled with stars, by whose light we rollicked,
exchanging partners and caroling:
You'll be the reaper
And fll be the binder,
For I have lost my true love,
And right here to find her,
MANY A GREEN ISLE 254
while the goats jumped their fences in alarm, and broke through
Then presently, in the shack once more, the guest of honor
"raised a hymn." "God Be with You till We Meet Again" we
sang, in parts, after which number I saw Miss Gracie home.
Perhaps you inhabit a region where fun of this kind makes a
normal farewell to a popular young man. If so, my congratula-
tions. It was a novelty to me, though King William, so my mother
says, was a game not unknown in the Kansas of her girlhood.
"Skip to my loo!" from her, in fact, in my own more recent
infancy, was equivalent to the modern phrase, "Get going!" The
Bahamians trace their lineage very often to loyalist families that
fled Carolina after the Revolution: some of these strenuous danc-
ing games had come to the islands by way of the mainland col-
onies.* But their origins were in Britain, and to find them still
flourishing was a pleasure.
It also was a surprise. The white West Indians as a rule are
quite up to the minute. What is being danced and sung on the
continents is being danced and sung by them. Nor do the colored
people shun ballroom dancing or Tin Pan Alley's sweet music.
Luckily, however, this is not the whole tale, though Harbor
Island's high jinks are unusual so far as my knowledge of white
merrymaking goes. The Negroes, for the most part, are respon-
sible for the dancing and music that are remarkable.
In Jamaica, for example, at a Tram Lines picnic, the legs that had
seemed so nimble under me in King William were rooted in
inactivity. These bouncing-breasted black girls and elastic black
boys were up to tricks taught them by no Anglo-Saxon. Cold
Spring gristle could not hope to qualify.
The floor proper was too crowded to permit more than an all-of-
a-piece movement in the mass, but on the lawn outside revels less
gelatinous were afoot. When partners were unavailable or absent
* The Bahamian addiction to hominy grits would seem to be a Carolina legacy.
255 KING WILLIAM AND THE RUMBA
on other business, people whirled and trotted by themselves; girls
danced with girls, men with men, helter-skelter across the dusty
grass by the sea; groups blended and dissolved like a dream of
The chief sight at Rockf ort Gardens that afternoon, though by
no means the only one of its kind, was a rumba danced endlessly
by a young buck in a curl-brimmed hat and his girl, radiant in
green rayon. It was a world of their own that these two inhabited
under the blue-starred lignum vitaes. Their ballet of the chase of
love was older than those iron-hard trees; it had the animal fresh-
ness of the first guilt in Eden in it, as they advanced, retreated,
touched, parted, revolved rapturously about each other, progress-
ing from figure to figure in continuous rhythm, she all curves,
he playful but intent. I see the fellow run toward her now, whirl-
ing one arm as if to wind tighter and tighter the springs of her
desire, while she, hips quivering, stiff ens in delicious dread.
So also one fine night in Barbados when I heard choral music
while prowling a country road, it would have been astonishing to
find white people making it. Nor was I astonished. It was being
made by eight Negroes behind the hedge of Barbados pride, seated
like madrigal singers around a table. A chant by Purcell from the
Anglican liturgy was what they had hit upon for their theme;
now, singing and resinging it, they added permanently those har-
monic or vocal effects that to their ears enriched its beauty.
Purcell might have been discomfited by the anthem so evolved,
as King William certainly would have been, to hear himself im-
mortalized as the son of his fathead father-in-law James II.* Or
the proud dancers of old Africa might have found my Tram Lines
rumba a slipshod show. Popular use, because it preserves a thing
alive rather than like a fly in amber, does not bar it from new
* William III is the hero of our song. William IV, however, actually lived in the
islands; as Duke of Clarence and a naval man, he was stationed for some time in
Antigua, where his charming residence still stands.
MANY A GREEN ISLE 256
Indeed, in a country of mixed immigrants, if an art is to live it
must take its nourishment in part from alien sources. Dancing
games have survived in the Bahamian out-islands, perhaps, be-
cause the Negroes of those balanced communities have kept the
whites from forgetting their bounce. Certainly the noise made on
the Harbor Island foreshore by the white children playing with
the black was freer in snatches of song and rhythmic whoop-de-do
than is usual among British tots especially in the blacker colonies
where worry about the color line exerts its blighting astringency.
As for Merry England itself these days, or even the merrier
England of the first quarter of the century, I tell no news when I
say that its citizens are prone to vocal and muscular restraint. No,
the Bahamian doings were like those of an older time in Britain
like the milkmaids' May pail garlanding that Pepys described, or
the game of "I love my love with an A" that he watched King
James play on the floor with the duchess and some other ladies
when His Majesty was still Duke of York.
The Barbados anthem builders, meanwhile, at their civilized
frolic, had not merely based their Negro music on a white master's
theme, but used European harmonic laws in its development. For
by such hospitable interchange the West Indian arts achieve their
Unencouraged in racial pride, out of touch for generations
with the culture of Africa, the Negroes naturally are the more
hospitable in this interchange. They may put on a show of arro-
gance, but the fact that they are "inferiors" makes them covet the
257 KING WILLIAM AND THE RUMBA
proud culture of the whites. Music thus is Spanish in the Spanish
islands, French in the French, British in the British. And behind
these national distinctions are those international ones bred by
the Church; for it would seem no chance thing, even in our main-
land world, that the Negro spirituals were developed in a Protes-
tant countryside, whereas jazz, with its emphasis on instrumenta-
tion, spread from the Lower Mississippi Valley that is, from
once French Louisiana whose focus is still Catholic New Orleans.
In the Protestant islands where the slaves were converted by
the Moravians and the British dissenting sects, hymns sung in parts
have been the fare Sunday after Sunday, gospel meeting after
gospel meeting. At Calabash Bay I heard them in their primitive
simplicity: unaccompanied, the voices divided into melody and
bass counterpoint. The night music at Blue Hole, of larger har-
monies and more spirited rhythm, with the fisherman drawing
his counter-melody through it, was an extension of the polyphonic
form as was the anthem building that I heard in Barbados.
In the Catholic islands, on the other hand, the minimum of
church music, Sunday after Sunday, wedding after wedding,
funeral after funeral, has been the priest's chant at the altar,
flowing its purely melodic way. And the choir's part in the Mass,
progressively more polyphonic since the jolts of the Reformation,
has never become wholly so; at any rate the innovation had small
place in the islands until after plain-song had been rooted there a
How can these repetitions fail to impress lifetime listeners?
For some cause, certainly, in the Catholic islands melody is king.
If parts are sung they generally duplicate the air, note for note,
on the third or sixth tone below it. Or the high octaves played by
the flute so heart-piercingly in Cuban charanga music are still
more slavish. In a word, in this homophonic realm the voices pro-
ceed side by side like nuns out for a stroll; whereas in Protestant
MANY A GREEN ISLE 258
polyphony they move with some independence, like a Bible class
picnic at a game of tag.
But melody hankers for accompaniment. In the Catholic islands,
so I have noted, guitar or accordion for chord harmonies, percus-
sion instruments for rhythm, play an integral part in any song
fest. And such being the case, it is in these same islands that
instrumental music thrives in its own right, with its own special
melodists. It was in French-Catholic Pointe-a-Pitre that the jazz
band kept me awake developing tonal effects out of its native
wit; and two boys on two flutes one rainy night played duets
under a high-wheeled cart.
Or I think of my first short night ashore in the tropics, now
long ago, when like a white moth in my new white clothes I
hovered after a small-boy band that was picking up pennies in
Havana. Here was something unmistakably Caribbean boleros
sung in thirds in sad brassy tones to the accompaniment of guitar,
maracas, claves, giiiro, marimbula, and bongo instruments for
the most part nameless for me then. Except for the guitar all were
non-European: the swishing gourd-rattle maracas; the tapping
ebony-stick claves; the loud-rasping gourd giiiro; the deep-toned
marimbula on which its player sat, reaching between his legs to
twang the metal prongs; the tough double drum of the bongo,
tuned over a spirit lamp.
That black brat of a bongo player was a very demon. Ferocious
in vigor, prodigious in technical resource, he was fired by the
genius I was to find animating island music on so many later
occasions, staid as well as madcap. For beyond the unities that
national example and the Church have given it, is the Negro's
I wish I could report the survival of African arts of the more
solid kind bronze founding like Benin's, carving in wood, archi-
tecture as full of geometric fancy as some Hausa palace's. Who
knows, it might be so if the blacks had migrated in liberty. But
259 KING WILLIAM AND THE RUMBA
as things were, and even to the kindlier of their masters, African
sculpture (for one instance) was as heathenly evil to be caught
busy at as poisoning a well. To survive transplanting to the slave
world, in fact, an art had to be of the inward sort, capable of
being popped out for exercise when safe, then popped back into
the mind again when not.
Thus, balladry, mimicry, and proverb coining could be prac-
ticed almost under the overseer's nose. Dancing and music were
even patronized by the whites: command performances on the
Great House lawn never failed to amuse guests come over from
jaded Europe. The more earthy and deep-seated elements of these
arts, however, the slaves soon learned to keep for less public times.
Persecution, by forcing Voodoo underground, saved it from
the blight of ridicule; in the Haitians' superb drum techniques
and ritu'al chants and dances, the islands' most nearly pure example
of the African arts has been preserved. But a mating of European
materials with African means is what is common as in the
Havana boys' music, with its African tympany and brass-voiced
Or the famed calypsos of Port-of -Spain are children of even
more diverse parentage. Trinidad, seized by the British in one of
the odd flukes of the French Revolution, and flooded by them
with East Indian labor, had hitherto been a Spanish colony,
worked by Negroes under French management. All elements re-
main: the language of these rowdy ballads tends often toward the
polyglot, though an English of drolly misplaced stresses is the base.
And since the island's Franco-Spanish phase stamped it with
Catholicism, its music is homophonic.* Newsy and personal, the
calypsos show scant kinship with choral music's group utterance.
* The melodic characteristic, if I may stick my neck out far enough to say so, is an
emphasis on the use of third intervals which since I note it also in the Haitian hill
music and in the incantation Elfrida taught me in Carriacou, I surmise to be a Negro
contribution. Tlmbu bimbu ("drum bamboo'*) provides the true native accompani-
menta nondescript orchestra, in which bottles are a common instrument.
Cuba is preeminent in supplying the Spanish-speaking West
Indies with their popular music; Trinidad plays a like role for
most of the others that is, it shares the responsibility with Tin
Pan Alley. In fact I learned more of the calypsos in Jamaica or
St. Lucia than in Trinidad itself, and more still in Grenada. But
St. Vincent, an island not yet visited in these essays, taught me
more than any, as well as a great deal else about what the popular
arts can be on an island (and will be, God grant, on mine). And
so with a glad adieu to theory I shall set about telling what I saw
and heard there.
At sunset the Lady Hawkins dropped anchor while the bay's
hillside fields of arrowroot warmed to green-gold and Kings-
town's long strand arcades blushed a modest pink. Captain Bligh
of Bounty fame had brought his cargo of breadfruit seedlings to
this haven at last, after a second and unmutinous voyage. I was
glad to disembark myself. And in no time I knew I had done so
lucky foot first.
For one thing I liked the hotel, the Pelican. When I came in
late, as constantly happened, and stole down the tunnel that led
to die court, it was delicious to find the court staircase gleaming
26l KING WILLIAM AND THE RUMBA
like salt in the moonlight, and to see the black blot of my shadow
go skipping up.
However, and though I accompanied the proprietress to church,
and applauded her daughters' fluent performance of Melody in F
and other classics, these people thought not quite happily of me.
For aristocratic colored folk, my interest in the island's own
vulgar music bred altogether too much of it about the premises.
One glance from my bedroom window would set the urchins to
tap dancing, while some such unpardonable ditty as "Wash Your
Hands and Pick Your Fingernails" might taint the air.
The beginnings of this education had been in a barbershop
where, hearing music, I turned in for a shave.
Around walls well pasted with pictures of Joe Louis and the
royal family lounged the singers. They knew Irving Berlin by
heart and of course the Trinidad calypsos. Robert Charles, one
idler among them, composed; strumming away at his four-stringed
cuatro, and revealing the absence of an important front tooth,
he favored us with
Meat is sweet and rice is nice,
But rum-drinking like honey, sugar, and spice,
while the barber snipped and swayed in rhythm.
One client several times cast off the cloth that swathed him to
illustrate on a guitar some refinement in chord progression. Or
when an especially dear number was embarked upon, the sewing
machine next door would cease to whirr, and around the tailor
would hop, tape-measure flying, to add his vibrant baritone.
This led away into various other sessions. The moon was at
the full that week, and by the light of it in Arno's Vale or on Sion
Hill I wrote out melodies and stanzas.
Emily, leave me alone,
I don't 'want no more wife in me home,
was a calypso that Robert Charles thought good;
MANY A GREEN ISLE 262
No more depression I decide to bear.
My last khaki pants Tm wearing got tear;
So leave me alone, I davit want no wife,
Girl, I going to live the bachelor life.
Then, with a deeper pathos:
Your family only worrying me
They want me to join in matrimony!
Before I should take such a tiger track,
Em'ly, I leave you, please don't come back!
It was a romanza of the realistic West Indian kind, as was also,
/ was accuse for brutality
Cause I got pep and vitality,
or that cautionary favorite which, having pointed out that plain
girls make the most loving and hard-working wives, ends,
Therefore, from a logical point of view,
Always many an uglier woman than you.
Most of these songs and others native to St. Vincent were
taught me by a trio of enthusiasts, Farino, Nugget, and Rodney,
named for the admiral.
Farino was a quarrelsome, jealous, long-boned rascal but full of
music. To the tune of what he sang, he would reach inside the
tatters of his shirt to make rich sucking noises in the hollow of his
arm. Nugget was small and graceful. Dancing and singing were
inseparable in the fellow: when he lifted his chin to carol in loud
true tones he "dingolayed" automatically, that is, wove his body
in rhythm. As for the admiral's namesake, he was a gentle young
man but played the mouth organ like a Lucifer.
As still as frost the moon glared in the serene vault of the sky;
masses of mango foliage loomed overhead, no less silent; cool airs
flowed down the hillside toward the sea into which realm,
shadows reeling before us on the pavement, capered our tomb-
stone man, of all people! with this troop of imps. And on the
263 KING WILLIAM AND THE RUMBA
moon-struck milestones I would sit, and with the imps' help copy
out what they had taught me: the Mussolini or Joe Louis calypsos,
say, those blasts of racial pride, or the islands' version of Edward
It 'was love, and love alone,
That cause King Edward to leave the throne.
That these frolics were planned for my edification did not
mar them, thank heaven, any more than the "Abdication" calypso
was marred by being in an untypically minor key.* But events
not designed for the visitor are what I prefer a gospel meeting,
say, such as I chanced upon, one night in Kingstown market
If ever I saw a scene out of Utopia, or perhaps I am thinking
now of my own more easygoing island, there it was. Not that
the place was any less pleasant by day, with its heaps of bananas
and purple "pears," and curtsying huckster women who, be-
cause I was polite, hollered "Praise God! " when assured my health
was good. And the adjoining fish market had its golden hours
when the boats same gliding in and the small boys, naked and
frolicsome, skited through the bright-turbaned crowd for dives
from the wharf. But night brought a homelier kind of beauty.
In the dark the trees seemed to spread their broad boughs twice
as far, and the Georgian brick architecture, rising simple and
clean above the clean paved spaces, shone rosy against the sky.
The evangelist was a blind graybeard in a smock, like some
prophet come down from an Ethiopian hill. The women with
him, however, were spry enough. Their charge was to bawl each
hymn stanza's opening line, to jog the memory of the rest of
* Its tune also is untypically short. But a comparison of the scales used generally
in the Negro melodies of our British-influenced mainland and the British islands is
highly curious. In both the minor is rare. The mainland's familiar pentatonic (black
key) scale (as in "Swing Low Sweet Chariot"), and the diminished seventh to which
its intervals seem naturally to lead, for some reason are unknown in the islands,
except the Bahamas, whose Negroes came from the mainland with their loyalist
MANY A GREEN ISLE 264
us. As for the throng, it .was made up of ordinary mortals, some
of whom, between hymns at least, were sinners. There were
kpses from innocence of speech and behavior to be observed,
and the riffraff urchins played tag among our legs without heed
either for salvation or earthly safety. But perhaps all the more so
for this reason, while singing my part and hearing the music
expand in brass-band majesty about me, the wonderful fact that
fun like this was common among these poor black people made
me admire them very deeply.
Or in Paul's Lot on another night when I happened on an im-
promptu dance, since I was kindly known I could sit on the curb
and clap hands for it without being too impertinent.
Girls were making the music for this party, in high breathy
tones. But though soft, their singing had power to put the neigh-
borhood's young fry all in motion. Some danced grotesques; others
satires on their elders; and others again, still too tiny to wear cloth-
ing below rib level, jigged like veterans. Now and again the group
would come down in formation from the outer shadows, bent
double and pumping arms; or there would be a rumba; or one
of the young lady singers would dart out to dingolay and shake
herself like jelly.
C U A T R O
There was to be a "pay'' dance beyond police bounds in the
hills one night later; and when two stevedores told me of the
event and invited me to come with them to it, they leered sig-
Rodney, Nugget, and Farino upon hearing the news also ex-
changed glances rich in meaning. "You take the tiger track, walk-
ing at night with worthless characters like them!" Farino moaned,
265 KING WILLIAM AND THE RUMBA
spreading his big hands in anxiety. And indeed the two new com-
panions, panting rum fumes, did loom very large on either side
of me as we mounted the long ravine. I felt my marrow freeze.
Nor was it reassuring, when we passed through a breadfruit grove,
to see the three more familiar friends detach themselves from the
shadow to follow behind, as they had volunteered to do, for a
By and by, here was the dance hall with music oozing from
it. Nor was I allowed to hesitate on the sill. A black hand caught
mine and drew me instantly to the bar.
The doorman, it proved, was the boatman who had fetched
me from the Lady Hawkins. Proud friendliness beamed from his
face, which was brightened further by the gin-and-beer mixture
he grandly ordered. As for the bouncer, a dirty-clothed very
black Negro named Jim, slouching about with a thick cudgel hang-
ing from his waist, he was brother to one of my troop of Kings-
town guides. "You the man give George those pants he need
so bad?" he cried, opening his eyes, and swept me off to meet
the girls and orchestra.
The Pelican's proprietress was right. My circle in Kingstown
lacked social tone. These free-mannered girls were by no means
strangers, Florinda, Hyacinth, Lucille, Aurora. As for the or-
chestra, squarely in the middle of it sat Robert Charles, giving
me the high-sign. My stevedores were a mite miffed by all this
welcome. They had expected and so had I that their tourist
"catch" would be putty in their hands, rather than a man come
home to the bosom of the family.
It was bal that was being danced, in fine loose-jointed style.
And indeed the music had force in it to put a hitching post in
motion. Along the wall on a bench was a battery of guitar players,
leaning all at one angle, with Robert's cuatro their key instru-
ment before which dark frieze strode the clarinetist, hat tipped
over eyes. If the throb of strings was the power that moved our
MANY A GREEN ISLE 266
entrails, it was his tricks that dazzled the ear: what he could do
with a rowdy tune like "Oi-oi-oi, Don't Touch Me Down There"
against the velvet of their thrumming, was and I would stop to
gape at it a marvel.
This virtuoso and his brethren I treated to a round of drinks;
but the event, unlike the many others of the night's exchanges,
was marred by an act of incivility. A brash newcomer, pushing
in, made bold to help himself to the bottle.
Everyone was appalled. He was especially, when Jim's cudgel
whined in a sudden arc. Poor newcomer! he was the first goer
too; with head well sunk in collarbone he shot out the door
at which awful moment I became conscious of six eyes staring at
me through a slit in the wall, like glass eyes in an oculist's display
case. It was my bodyguard.
"Come on in, boys, I'm safe," I told them; and indeed it was
an unrobbed, unharmed, and very cheerful tombstone man who
looked out into next morning's radiant world. Fitting bottle caps
on their toes, the street urchins as usual fell to dancing. What an
island! What a day! It was impossible not to do something showy.
Kings might be a rarity in Kingstown since William IV sailed
home from the colonies, but in such an atmosphere even I could
play the prince. Ergo, I hired the biggest boat on the waterfront
and took all the singers to Flat Rock for a swim.
Having put down the stone he kept in the back of his fist for
meddlesome policemen, my guide George plied an oar; Farino
strained at another, and Willy the boatman set the stroke. When
we rowed past his father's house, infant Cyril, in my lap, opened
and shut his little hand, whereupon up flew the windows and the
family leaned out to wave and holler. And at the Rock the lake-
bred Minnesotan, roused to a pitch of heroism quite out of char-
acter, dived into and swam down through the multicolored brine
till my head was ready to split so rising at last at a distance that
267 KING WILLIAM AND THE RUMBA
was acclaimed a prodigy. Farino, gasping like a dying man,
struggled only half as far.
After this triumph how could I forbear treating the crowd
to a round of snowballs? The Portuguese into whose shop we
crammed, was all but prostrated shaving ice for so many red-
syrup drinks. The din was deafening. But when all had been
served and glasses loudly were sucked dry, Farino, eyes closed,
lifted his hands. And out from inside that jailbird rose a song:
everybody knew it, everybody sang it; the noise resolved itself
to order like a school of fish swimming suddenly all one way.
Hands clapped, feet tapped, bodies dingolayed. And so to "Tie
Me Donkey" and the "Monkey Song," the smaller boys' favor-
ites; after which everybody tore his cap off and sang "God Save
the King," with three cheers for George VI and, will you be-
lieve it, three for me.
"Well, good-by," I told them afterwards, for my ship was to
sail that evening. "And may you all live long, useful, and happy
lives" upon hearing which words infant Cyril put his fist to his
eye, his mouth pulled dolefully out of shape, and he hid behind
a tree. He'd brought a puppy for a keepsake for me, poor little
shaver, with a speech about how when grown it w;ould jump
up lovingly on me and protect me; when I packed I was glad in
a way that I'd given it back; the suitcases were bother enough,
bulging with Madras handkerchiefs and songs. But down the face
above my necktie, when, while thinking about all these things,
I tied the tie in readiness to go, a tear came trickling.
Ridiculous! What a mug! Thank heaven the porter had not
come up yet, to see me!
THE GREAT ORPHEUM
JF A WILLINGNESS TO BE PLEASED IS
happiness's first requisite, and I think it is, the first requisite of
festivity is a willingness to be gay. The thought has occurred to
me that on a well-run island the citizens should be assigned colors
to wear throughout their lives, some green, some scarlet, some
blue, and so on, to insure that all crowds be picturesque. A
"gorgeous idea," but I turn it over to rulers more dictatorial than
myself. For me it would spoil everything on a festal day to have
to jail some rebel soberly clothed: the raiment of more dutiful
citizens immediately would seem sheepish.
No, willingness is essential; for the willingness. to be gay breeds
a readiness for sport, and readiness breeds spontaneity; and spon-
taneity in its turn makes faces shine and invents new doings, and
best of all brings life, joy, and meaning to the customs bequeathed
to us by other times.
Whether our present method of legislating the limits of work-
ing hours is better than the mediaeval one of studding the calendar
with holy days I incline to doubt, though I cheerfully accept
the benefits of the existing system. But I hope it will not seem
ungrateful to say that on my own island, where everybody will
be his own boss anyhow, the calendar is to be rich with May
Day Maypoles, Shrove Tuesday pancakes, and all such reason-
able punctuation to the year. For as a sentence seems better begun
269 THE GREAT ORPHEUM
with a capital letter than without, and grace before meat turns eat-
ing into an ordered event, so the observance of time's human punc-
tuation makes eternity almost homelike. The years are filled by it
with familiar and well-loved landmarks.
What holidays the Arawaks and Caribs kept I can't determine,
but their arts of merrymaking astonished the Spaniards. Queen
Anacaona's parties were the talk of Europe those first years after
the discovery. When Bartholomew Columbus traveled to treat
with her in Haiti, and her troupe of elegant but quite naked
young ladies-in-waiting advanced from the groves to meet his
army, singing ariettas and bearing garlands, the soldiers forgot
their bawdy jests and babbled to one another of nymphs and
dryads. And after the iguana feasts and the wrestling, dancing,
and trials of strength performed at her command, there was so
spirited a sham battle between detachments of her forces that
four spearsmen were slain. The Spaniards, in fact, finding this
part of the show too sanguinary, begged that it might end.
Such delicacy in after recollection must have seemed odd to
Queen AnacacSna. When next she entertained a Spanish official,
the party ended in another manner. After the ariettas and the
feast this time, and after taking part heartily in a game of quoits,
the new governor, Ovando, permitted his men to reciprocate with
a tournament: it was a splendid show of horsemanship and
knightly combat but, as it fell out, a ruse. The "sham battle"
concluded with the native chief guests being burnt alive in the
queen's pavilion, while she, regal to the last, was hauled off to
Santo Domingo and there hung. The islands' idyll was now well
past. What the Old World wanted of the New was abject sub-
serviency and cash profits.
In my year in the islands, however except for Cuba, St. Barts,
and America's recently acquired Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands
the West Indies were held by the powers that had held them a
century before. The age of exploitation and of brawls for posses-
MANY A GREEN ISLE 270
sion had mellowed into one of guardianship, more or less benign.
The minor colonies, in fact, tended to lean on their masters'
bounty. Thus, though there were grounds for discontent with
government, as can be true also in places fully managing their
own, the usual temper was one of pride: the Curagaoans were glad
to be Dutch, the Martiniquans to be French, and hearts swelled in
the British islands when the great naval vessels entered port.
At the time of George VFs coronation, for example a date
recent but now strangely remote Nevis marked the day with
It was all very ambitious. Scene one having been set at Runny-
mede with the signing of Magna Cam, there were eight cen-
turies of history to depict, which put a severe strain on local re-
sources. But though Nevis is a poor, forgotten, black-man colony,
its patriotism was equal to the test. Nelson's flagship, in papier-
mach6 was a triumph of engineering; horses of various shapes
and sizes were found, sufficient to mount the grand review. As
for the actors, though by no means were there enough white
ones available to play all white roles and some of the kings and
prime ministers thus had to be played by nonwhites, everybody
put his heart into the eff ort and it came off well. James Ts part
was taken by the dentist, a colored man much respected; and
when, in his kingly self, he united the thrones of Scotland and
England, and decreed the translation of the Bible, some found
the effect incongruous, but the general thought was that it was
reverent and fine.
C XT 8
Bastille Day in French St. Martin was another case in point.
271 THE GREAT ORPHEUM
The colony is peopled by English-speaking Negroes for the most
part, yet the national holiday there, in "my year," 1937, brought
all elements into a round of festivity filled to its circumference
with a patriotic readiness to be gay.
St. Martin is no great place, but as is usual in even quite un-
heard-of islands it has inhabitants going about the business of
life as earnestly as if it were Chicago. Its history is pretty. Divided
from the earliest times between Dutch and French, it was blessed
with settlers who made it their policy not to fight Europe's wars
among themselves; for which good reason the twenty square
miles of French territory, and the eighteen of Dutch, to this
day lie side by side at peace with each other within their com-
mon ring of surf.
When I looked down on Marigot, the capital of the French
part, from the ruined fort that overhangs it on a rocky hill, it
seemed certainly very tranquil. The lagoon lay as smooth as blue
glass, and on the harbor bay, almost as calm, the reflected masts
of the schooners twisted and broke but always redrew their
wobbly image. A boat with fish for sale was plying among these
larger craft; I could hear the conch shell moo; and from them,
laboriously, lighters laden with casks were moving toward the
The harbor was better filled with shipping than I should have
anticipated. French St. Martin, as it happens, is attempting the
service so long and profitably offered by St. Thomas that of
free port where shippers are not troubled by too many questions.
Goods brought in go out again to destinations often vague: rum,
as for instance in these casks from Demerara, passes into the hands
of buyers whose vessels then disappear from marine intelligence.
I heard Canada hazarded as a goal, but, as was the case in Nassau
in Prohibition times, verifying such guesses is no matter for local
The town looked innocent to be a smugglers' rendezvous,
MANY A GREEN ISLE 272
tucked between the hill and the end of the lagoon's near arm.
One street curved away down the isthmus separating lagoon from
bay; the other ascended three blocks' distance to the Philipsburg-
Grande Case road, on the far side of which a hoary stone fence
cut it short, with pastureland beyond rising in bucolic neatness
to the island's central heap of mountain.
All very nice! And just my size. Where the stubby wharf
nosed out from among the trees, the house balconies on the quay
caught the sun on their lacework panels. It was a treat to see
that the notion that time is money had not bedeviled the carpenters
who had made them. No, those craftsmen had been content with
nothing less than beauty; and then, their jig saws laid aside, they
had painted the fretwork as white as the sailboats drawn up be-
low the sea wall arches which whiteness in Marigot exceeds
that of swans.
Next day was the Fourteenth and I was looking forward to it.
However, I was hardly ready at six in the morning for the aerial
bomb that exploded seemingly just outside the window. As if
jarred as much as I was, the Catholic and Wesleyan bells woke
in vociferous outburst, and the countryfolk already streaming by
tucked their skirts or trousers up and broke into a run.
By the time I could swallow breakfast the boat races were well
in progress. Never was anything seen trimmer than those white-
rinded craft on that broad blue bay. And when the winners of
each race, after touching the anchored dinghy that was the goal,
stretched out their arms for the flamboyant boughs carried out
by some swimmer for a trophy, the flowers' clear scarlet glowed
in unison with the colors striped gaily around the sailboats' gun-
Meanwhile an Anguillan was performing on a slack rope strung
up between two guinep trees; or when he was not, the local boys
slipped their shoes off, guffawed, and made a try. The pavements
swarmed with onlookers in their sprucest clothes; cars tooted in;
273 THE GREAT ORPHEUM
bombs dropped tricolor flags and glittering confetti. A band
played, to whose music, as fancy urged, percussion effects and
mouth organ chords were added liberally by nonband members,
A rifle range was cleared on the wharf: my friends the Beau-
pethery boys, whose sport was shark hunting, here shone de-
The day's eating, too, soon began. "Plenty sweets!" cried one
mulatto girl when I inquired what she had for sale. And with a
grace to match the flutelike quality of her voice, down she swung
the tray from her head and tucking its corner nosegay of red
hibiscus and white double-jasmine behind her ear, unfolded a
napkin to show coconut squares, cashew pralines, green and red
lollipops on broomstraws, and gingerbread in pink-frosted true-
love knots. Other hawkers sold like wares, or peanuts, or golden
mangoes and bananas, or twigs of bright green guineps, the islands'
Marigot, in fact, was a picture to admire. The flare of hatbrims,
the gay turban hues, the fancy cut of sideburns all usual enough
on an ordinary day set one another oif this day like signs in
common of the joy of life. And the children, shading from
coppery to black, were more than ever darlings, jigging to the
band tunes and spitting guinep seeds.
At noon the official toast was drunk in the Maine around a
huge antique oval table. Squeezed on a settee between the Wes-
leyan parson and the agricultural director from the Dutch part
of the island, I represented the United States of America with
as much dignity as a tombstone man could muster.
If my Cold Spring cronies could only have seen me now!
Mayor Theisen especially: his island counterpart, Mayor Constant
Fleming, performed with style. Seizing a glass and ripping out
the toast in orotund French, he made me gulp ahead of time
it was not so much to la patrie that he bade us drink, as to democ-
racy itself. But "Vive la Francel" we thundered, draining our
MANY A GREEN ISLE 274
glasses; and a spirited though muffled voice from the pantry where
someone was taking a private swig, answered, "Vive la liben\"
Then followed an address read by a colored man from a manu-
script trembling with his fervor; then the Vin d'Honneur. Mari-
anne, meanwhile, serene and noble in plaster of Paris on her
bracket, gazed away under the low ceiling beams toward a less
ceremonious part of the doings, to wit, the bicycle races in the
After lunch I hustled back to see the last of these. Nobody
seemed to be in charge: the disorder was as titanic as anything
could be on so small an island. But in spite of argument, one of
the high and fancy or low and streamlined school of riders al-
ways seemed to win. There were three-legged races; and now and
again I would find myself in the house of some patriot and well-
wisher, trying rum poured from a battered coffeepot or rum-
The waiter at the hotel, Jean, was in the soccer game, which
gave me a personal interest in that roughhouse. Time being pre-
cious it also meant that he had to serve us at dinner in striped jersey
and football shorts; casting a loaf of bread to the ceiling as he
sprang into the room he caught it behind his back like an acrobat
before slapping it on the table. Thank heaven, Mayor Fleming's
claret, a-clink with ice cubes, cleared my gullet of the too-sweet
taste of punch; and a whole lobster and leg of veal gave me
strength to face the evening's rigors.
These took the form of a patriotic drama Danton in nine acts
in a tent pitched for the purpose. I had been on the alert too
long to follow even brief oratory now with zest, and our hero's
style, though as clarion-like as the mayor's, was infinitely more
extensive. My neck cracked repeatedly as weary head dropped
But to the Revolutionary scenes, since the tent walls had been
reefed up for coolness, the fireworks outside gave a rousing air of
275 THE GREAT ORPHEUM
realism. Nor did the explosions and sudden lights fail to lend
point to the newsreel, which showed the European dictatorships
in their most threatening mood: Moscow, military review;
Rome, the same; Berlin, ditto ditto; Madrid, ditto again. But
Paris was different. In the flower market of the CitS there the
island heart of the republic courtly old gentlemen were buying
posies from big-aproned beaming women; at which juncture,
whoosh! a rocket soared up past our briar-grown fort to shed
over it the benediction of red-white-and-blue stars.
The excellence of Marigot's Bastille Day celebration lay in its
unanimity. Everybody took part in it, even I, the stranger in
town. The onlookers were like "the crowd" in a ballet, often
involved in the larger motions of the piece; nobodies were con-
stantly turning out to be star performers. And though in retro-
spect its lightheartedness now seems pathetic, it well fulfilled the
purpose for which it had been ordained. For if such paroxysms of
history as the French Revolution are to be commemorated, to
do so with three-legged races and slack-rope dancing is not so
much frivolous as it is appropriate: what are agonies good for if
not to buy future lightness of heart?
So, too, in Trinidad at Hosein time when the swarms of East
Indian Moslems have their chief festival, carrying gaudy trans-
parencies at night to cast them into the sea with noisy pomp,
it is hopeful to remember that these lanterns represent martyrs 7
tombs and that their frequently green coloring is a sign that one
MANY A GREEN ISLE 276
martyr died of poison. His corpse bloated, the story is, and
turned a horrid green.
Or the feast of All Saints in Martinique well illustrates the
phoenixlike cheerfulness of mankind. For all its weight of mem-
ory of the dead and dolorous French crape, the occasion is made
so pretty, when dusk falls, by the lights twinkling innumerably in
the cemetery groves, that the islanders think of it as not the
saddest but the loveliest of their festivals.
As for St. Rose of Lima, who ever made a more morbid
specialty of suffering? I have no patience with the woman. But
from the thorns of that life the French Creoles pluck a flower.
In French-speaking Arima, in Trinidad, her day, August thirtieth,
is Race Day, with the town jolly with bands and bunting. And
in St. Lucia it is the colony's chief fete.
I am no long lier in bed, but in bed I still was when the "La
Rose" songs began to be wafted up the hill that bright-misted St.
Lucian morning. And after a sumptuous High Mass in which the
good folk of Castries finely chanted their part as Poptilus, the fes-
tival songs were resumed in streets through which impromptu
processions wound. "Wadeloes!" the Roses called their rival band
the Marguerites, a taunt whose meaning has been lost in the fogs
of folklore. The Frenchy old tunes, too, had had all the corners
smoothed off them in nobody knows how many years of island
At night Castries was a whirl of dancing. "Ba main P.CJ. sans
ow-oua? at the International Caf6, was the demoniac calypso
that made feet fly.* And near the harbor head a tarpaulin and
palm-leaf bowery had been raised, in which a really large orches-
tra was perspiring. But bowery and caf 6s could not contain St.
Rose's revels: wherever music reached a bit of pavement, bal and
rumbas were in progress under the open sky.
"Give me P.(ure) C.(ane) J.(uice) without water" that is, neat rum.
277 THE GREAT ORPHEUM
However, if gloomy events can be commemorated gaily, happy
ones can accrete to their commemoration high jinks that seem no
less odd. While the Christmas toy fair Christianly prospers in
Kingston, for example, the season is marked in Jamaica's farther
parts by heathen weapon dances. In Stewart Town, for one such
place, Johnny Canoe, whose prototype was a Guinea chief, leers
at the fun from his horned mask, while cambric monsters lope
about, hind- and forequarters animated by local wags, charging
upon the half-delighted, half -terrified children.
In St. Kitts the cambric monster is plain Farmer John's Bull.
Who knows, he may bear some kinship to the ox of Bethlehem.
When his spirits sink in a fit of biliousness, however, and veter-
inary care is called for, the pantomimed examination and response
to treatment are so sidespUttingly indelicate that the Christmas
stable scene seems a far cry indeed; Meanwhile, firecrackers pop
from one end of the Antilles to the other, and the poinsettias burn
a fine seasonable red.
Carnival is the chief holiday time in the Catholic islands, and
keeps its preeminence in those which in passing from French
to British ways of thought have generally taken on a Protestant
tone. In St. Vincent the governor awards a wand wrapped in
bank notes to the cleverest band of entertainers; in Dominica,
too still French-Catholic for all its long British rule, carnival
prizes are worth the winning. Jason Apperly told me of one
winner who had disguised himself ingeniously as a hill. Yes, there
was no front nor back to this fellow, he was one mass of hill
vegetation, growing in concealed tins of earth slung about his
body. The wonder was, how he could stand the ants. But what
struck me most in Jason's account of Roseau Carnival was that
the white people for once in the year cut loose in the blessed
release of blackface and joined the monkeyshines.
Martinique's carnival was immortalized by Lafcadio Hearn,
MANY A GREEN ISLE 278
who saw it in Poe-esque time of plague. But Trinidad's is the
one of chief current fame in the Lesser Antilles: what most of
the islands will sing all year and salt away in the deep bins of
popular lore, is sung first in Port-of -Spain the week before Mardi
Gras. Ach! to have been one of that tentful of lucky listeners,
when "Netty, Netty," the classic calypso of my year in the
islands, first convulsed the public!
The carnival I saw, however, was none of these, but Havana's,
biggest of all which event, since Sundays are not strictly a part
of Lent, continues through half of it, in Sabbath re-eruptions of
Saturday nights likewise see the festivities in motion. One week
it will be dancing in the parks, with colossal masked balls at the
Asturian and Galician clubs; another, open-air vaudeville in the
Cathedral Square where the silhouette of the double-bass players
in the orchestra, beyond the dark restless crowd, stand inky
against the bright froth of kicked-up skirts, and antique arcades
haughtily echo risqu6 songs.
The great thing on Sundays is the parade, but the word implies
too studied an effort to be descriptive. There are floats, to be
sure, elaborate set pieces to awe the eye: posed Columbuses for
the historic touch, Neptunes in plaster shells for allegory, and
bathing beauties to worry the thoughtful with their undress in
the evening chill. As if Havana were Cold Spring, the fire depart-
ment displays its crimson splendors. But even the most educational
of such items scoot by at a dizzy pace; pushers-in egg them for-
ward. For the anonymous participants in the show, numberless,
tireless, and more than willing to be gay, make up the force that
gives it life.
The youngsters of the Garcia family, say, have hatched a plan
with their little friends to ride to carnival in pirate dress. And
after a great deal of sewing on the mothers' part, here they are,
279 THE GREAT ORPHEUM
cocked hats, cutlasses, and all, cramming the Garcia car (top
down) to bursting. Papd Garcia, with false nose and big pink
spectacles, drives. But Mama meanwhile has done some stitching
for herself. In long black cape, with other matrons of her circle,
she rides in a truck, screaming broadcast whatever insult or inanity
comes to mind: inhibitions can be forgotten, behind a mask and
the legend, "Crazy Women!"
The Garcfas and their friends, however, are but two entries
in the spontaneous motorcade. Hundreds of like groups hatch
like plans and hilariously join the fun. As dark deepens and the
lamps half-hidden in the laurel trees begin to beam, the procession
swells, until, overlong for its two-mile circuit, it doubles into
parallels, rushing down Malec6n, up Prado, down Prado, and up
sea wall Malecon again. But the two lines are soon reunited by
the web of confetti that they lavishly interweave.
A similar web, renewed as fast as broken, laces parade to on-
lookers, and them in turn to the strollers on the Prado's broad
mid-strip of mosaic pavement. Freak hats and parasols are the
rule in this middle zone, and carnival impudence, and the eating
of endless sweets.
Where a lamp casts a spot of light through a gap in the laurels,
some amateur will earn bravos with his homemade skit; or an in-
spired guitar player will set a knot of revelers to marching jauntily
in squad. In front of the noses of the pompous, huge spiders are
prone to dangle, and between pretty girls' breasts are thrust
tickling pinches of flake confetti af ter which last sort of exploit
a courteously tipped hat is rewarded with an outraged pout,
neither boy nor girl to be outdone in the comedy of decorum.
But no matter how thickly the crowd may press or how madly
it may mill, the hawkers push through with their wares orange
ice in half orange skins, tin horns, trees of lollipops, Hitler mous-
taches, cornucopias of roasted nuts, watchmen's rattles, big cram-
bly doughnuts and against the noise and music of it all, raise
cries florid and beseeching.
Perhaps it was the Chinamen among these hawkers, stealing
about silently with mysterious closed boxes, who all at once
made me feel an alien. After hours of mixing in the fun, here I
was, perched on a bench top eating coconut ice cream and being
eaten in turn by lonesoineness. Home-sweet-homesick thoughts
of Marigot rose to mind, of the toast we had drunk in the low-
beamed Mairie, and the Dutch agricultural director's dog, as kind
an Airedale as I ever knew. And then I was on the Fort hilltop
once again, looking down lovingly on that small-island world.
Good heavens! why had I come away? Why had I left snug
Tortola, sky-high Saba, or that New England village, Harbor
Island? Could I hope to find anything nearer the heart's blue-
print than St. Barts? The little places were the place for me.
Columbus thought Cuba a continent and no wonder.
For a rebuke, suddenly I was on not Marigot's Fort Hill but
a Haitian mountainside, a toppled-back gravestone for my seat.
Never had the world looked vaster than from that philosopher's
28l THE GREAT ORPHEXJM
roost that afternoon. The great Plaine du Cul de Sac, opalescent
in sea level's heats, the range upon range of mountains beyond,
had been ravaged, burnt, fouled with the stench of rotting corpses
year after year in the New World's most gruesome war. What
price liberty on this wicked planet! And the Haitians were still
paying for theirs in poverty and dumb stubbornness. The very
sea, half-hidden by the Lord knows high-enough Morne de
1'Hopital far below, seemed no cradle of islands, but a tongue
stretched thirstily inland for fresh water.
But where the ideal is maintained at a cost so near insufferable,
its reality has power: the purpling mountains were not an inch
too lofty for that evening's peace, nor was their coloring one tint
too imperial. Happy and humble, I called back greetings when a
pair of blue-smocked mountaineers toiled by on the next knoll's
trail; one such poor wayfarer had been buried beneath my grave-
stone. But no, it was a woman's, "aged," so the inscription ran,
"115 years." It seemed a short life for a world so large. I pic-
tured her in her old old age, in a scarlet turban, serenely smoking.
The loneliness of her grave, however, must have meant some
singularity in her life. She had seen trouble enough, no doubt of
that, in her long time, as her present-day heirs must see in theirs:
from the coffee thickets and thatch villages that peppered the
mountain flank, up rose a wistful dissonance of scraps of songs,
scolding, big-lunged laughter, name-hollering, argument, chil-
dren's calls the old common noises of the human family. And
for a while, for once, there in that mesh of sound, I seemed to
hear with the clear ear of understanding.
A wad of confetti had hit me on the nose, with which blow my
ears reopened to the carnival din. A dressy quadroon, as if out
of the bold old romantic naughty times, was riding by in a low-
slung volante: her turban, glittering crucifix, and earrings, and
the looped-up opulence of her skirts, made her seem not so much
MANY A GREEN ISLE 282
picturesque as a sort of West Indian muse. I was glad her marks-
manship was so good: we blew each other kisses. After all, I
loved big Havana as much as I did small Marigot; now I had
the good sense again to know it. And happily from around me
the tight globe in which the traveler moves, and whose glass so
usually is dingy, distortional, or (worse still) self-reflecting, re-
ceded to its best crystallinity. Perhaps it melted. At any rate
the warmth of this world's fellow creatures became near and
In crowd or solitude, the rule would seem, the precious gift
is a realization that life runs through the rest of creation as
actually as through oneself. The carnival playboy uproariously
kissing the girls, or the physicist groping for contact with his
shy neighbor the atom either comes nearest to satisfaction
when that light shines on his enterprise. Hans Andersen, to whom
the very street lamps were alive, is the travelers 7 philosopher: past
times were the present, day by day, and in vital processes built
the world we find.
But understanding toiled for is good not by virtue of the cost.
After the struggle, when plain truth is our reward, the wonder is
that it was not grasped in one easy motion, like some darky grand-
'mother taking her small granddaughter in her arms. To the quiet
mind grace can come as quickly as to the anxiously desirious
perhaps more quickly: such is my suspicion.
These sausage chains of platitude are nourishment and a com-
fort to the lazy man. I had finished the ice cream too, so hopped
down friskily from my perch. The Havanese, meanwhile, in
false noses and mad hats, brought their talents to bear on their
inheritance, exercising it for health in the tomfoolery used by
their forefathers before them. Yes, such observances are one means
of keeping the cosmos in good trim.
There were novelties too, however, to fit the newer times.
One, a float following the volante, had been devised for the tour-
283 THE GREAT ORPHEUM
ists' eyes a snowbank well simulated, with Eskimos sitting on it
and the top of a monument just protruding. "Here lies summer,"
was the epitaph, a message from the chamber of commerce straight
To give the already broad hint more breadth, a second float
showed summer's year-round habitation a tropic isle, small, neat,
and green. A canoe lay beached on its painted cove, hibiscuses
bloomed red and alemandas yellow. There was a thatch-and-
wattle cabin, and between two real coconut trees a hammock
By a miracle the designer had managed not to crowd his pic-
ture. No, a fish-net weaver, singing, lolled against the wall, with
a guitar player sprawled out beside him. A pretty girl smiled in
the open, door. Two children rode proudly with the driver. As for
the hammock could these bugged-out eyes deceive me? it hung
God send me memory of the Spanish word for "Stop!" Wasn't
the island mine, damn this rush? I sprang to action while a resolve
like concrete hardened in my breast.
But more resolute still was the old ghoul bashfulness. Along I
hustled, jostling the startled merrymakers. Should I or shouldn't
I? oh, what a nincompoop! what a jackass! And then and here
is our tale's disgusting climax at the Prado's top, like Dante
feeding his gaze for the final time on Beatrice, I watched my
darling turn, and start for the sea again.
Obispo Street was as still as a grave, and if anything blacker
and more narrow. But into it I trudged, while two masked dom-
inoes, hurrying toward the revelry I had left, only heightened
its feeling of desertion. We bowed as we passed; their teeth
gleamed an instant in mysterious smiles. And so to the Ambos
Mundos and my hateful desk.
A murraine on the islands of the mind! Not armchair geog-
MANY A GREEN ISLE 284
raphy was what I wanted, but real rock, and the rockier the
But it is pitiful to see how soon rejected pleasures can be wel-
comed back; the easy-to-hand, too, as a rule, are the kind I take.
Napoleonic conquest has small lure for me. No, here were my
old pals, the pen and inkwell, with whose help, in privacy, and
with the much-loved West Indies for our reference, a bomb-
proof island could be conjured up perhaps; free blessedly of fools,
bad cooking, and insincerity. And one, of course, in which I
should always shine. With which tickling fancy, while the cathe-
dral's cracked bell tolled midnight, I kicked shoes off, hitched
the chair up, and not unmerrily fell to.
N B Z V "El